Good To See You

Good To See You
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Smarting from the scathing criticism which rang loud and clear for hours in a belligerent PDM rally right outside his own seat of power, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the best the embattled Chief Justice, could come up with a day later was to swear his impartiality in open court by remarking “I always use the phrase good to see you out of politeness.”

Despite looking exposed, beleaguered and embarrassed, it seems the judge is intent upon pretending that he has only been mildly rebuked by an anonymous litigant for showing inconsequential and negligible judicial bias. The dilemma faced by the Chief Justice is that hiding behind his supposedly pleasant demeanour does not obscure the decisive tilt in favour of Imran Khan and PTI he has shown for a year, leaving unprecedented wreckage in its wake which will take decades of restorative work.

A momentary reddening of his cheeks while glibly explaining himself in court as if he was recounting an anecdote to his companions round the dinner table may sound more like a tragicomedy than an innocuously amusing story which was unconvincingly made to look that way by the top judge. If only self-effacing humility could undo the distortions wrought by the Supreme Court itself to the jurisprudence it ought to adhere to.

While hearing Imran Khan’s petition challenging amendments in the NAB law an impression was being given that the court had not demonstrated any favouritism. A classic case of too little too hopelessly late. Imagine the mind-numbing reality where a show of street power is needed to remind the highest court of the definition of impartiality. Such are the times we live in.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the court proceedings were business as usual as lawyers appearing before him employed all their skills with the quintessential court room prolix legalese, but the sharp erosion of the Chief Justice’s moral authority to hold the highest judicial office in the land has never looked so apparent as it did during that hearing. It has been tough enough for him to explain the arbitrary bench formation and fixation of political matters before familiar judges in the past, imagine being saddled with explaining the legality of freeing an accused on police remand and ordering a plush Mercedes for his transportation amongst other favours showered within the space of an hour.

It is no laughing matter when judges in high courts jestingly repeat the Chief Justice’s much criticised ‘good to see you’ remark to make light of the grave crisis engulfing the country. Laughter may be the best medicine but such remarks despite bringing comic relief may have quite the opposite effect in the long run.

Familial bonds, pressure from like-minded judges of the Supreme Court along with sympathies for Imran Khan in some segments of the lawyer’s fraternity—already fractured on party lines—do not augur well for redressing the imbalance. Although the list is frighteningly long but a few diabolical blunders like the interpretation of Article 63A of the Constitution and a bewilderingly incomprehensible insistence on a 3-2 decision in the suo moto matter regarding election to the provincial assemblies as opposed to four judges clearly disagreeing with the three minority judges, have made a mockery of justice to put it mildly.

Both sides, i.e., the Parliament and the Supreme Court faction of judges headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial are mindful of their respective strengths and weaknesses, the only difference is the days of small skirmishes and ambushes—a euphemism for Chief Justice Bandial making and then reneging on promises made to the executive—may be over. For instance, the PDM especially Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, may not fall for assurances of impartiality given in the past if judges of CJ’s choice were appointed to the Supreme Court or lately on reversing the bizarre interpretation of Article 63A in the hitherto not fixed review petition.

The PDM government feels aggrieved that those on the former were not honoured by the Chief Justice and also expect to be hard done by on the latter in a similar fashion considering the recurring past pattern. They will be closely watching the Supreme Court for any untoward moves by a freshly weakened Chief Justice which may compel them to hold a decisive rally in such an eventuality which—to borrow an expression from the game of chess—would prove enough to force a checkmate. The hapless citizens, on the other hand, will be wondering how many more mini crises they will have to endure before ship of the state, already caught in a deadly vortex for months, steadies itself for good.


Tariq Bashir is a Lahore based lawyer. Follow him on twitter @Tariq_Bashir