Except Nisar addressed our population emergency after he had accomplished everything he had set out to do. He had overseen the disqualification of a Prime Minister, presided over a bench which made sure the disqualification was for life, and oversaw an electoral process where the Election Commission of Pakistan’s result management system crashed because the real result management system succeeded.
The only thing Nisar really failed at was dispensing justice and crowd funding a dam. The latter was someone else’s fault he later claimed. The former seems par for the course.
Meanwhile, CJ Umar Ata Bandial heads to the weekend affair with little more to show for his tenure than a red face. One struggles to find a fig leaf, but he might yet write one up for himself in his last few weeks – given that almost every major political issue that has come before his court still awaits a detailed verdict.
When Nisar hosted such a conference, he commanded enough power for the lack of amusement of observers to not find print. With Bandial, if lawyers and analysts are refraining from comment, you sense their omission has more to do with pity.
There were once high days where the Bandial court would threaten contempt for everyone who got in the way of elections, while forgiving some contempt by assuming the contemnor probably hadn’t been communicated court orders. The forgiveness came after the court allowed Imran Khan to rally in Islamabad, where he marched into the red zone against his lawyer’s expressed commitments on his behalf the day before. When shown burning trees on Jinnah Avenue, the court opined that these were probably set aflame to prevent the tear gas from taking effect.
Meanwhile, CJ Umar Ata Bandial heads to the weekend affair with little more to show for his tenure than a red face. One struggles to find a fig leaf but he might yet write one up for himself in his last few weeks – given that almost every major political issue that has come before his court still awaits a detailed verdict.
These days, the court doesn’t bother mentioning contempt of its decisions, the practice having become so pervasive. There were times when the law was young, the days of constitutional creation where chief ministers were restrained from taking any meaningful decisions before the Constitution was rewritten to ensure PTI dominance and a dissolved assembly. Then there were decisions where we were told elections would happen no matter what, and the court would find public servants who would find money to ensure the constitutional obligation of elections to the assemblies were carried out.
We are presently going through a period where none of the Apex Court's election-related decisions have been implemented; and instead of threatening contempt, our Chief Justice is reduced to reminding us that he has, after all, only moral authority. This is after the next Chief has reminded him through at least a dozen public letters of his failure to form benches morally, and has instead done so in open display of his own politicking.
Our courts are designed in order to convey a sense of majesty and superiority – supposedly flowing from the position of the judge as he dispenses justice. He is elevated. He is secluded. He is to be obeyed. Our past Chief Justices have relied upon this magnificent form even when they were left with little else by way of substance. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Nisar thundered from under their robes and upon their benches – threatening everyone with contempt whenever this majesty was in danger of dilution. But even grandiose design has its limits. It cannot gloss over the huffing puffing and then retreating that has defined the Bandial court.
Last week, our Army Chief was addressing an agrarian policy summit where the Prime Minister turned up to applaud him and refused to take the stage without the Chief being called up first. Then the Prime Minister held aloft a placard about the new age farming initiative for all the guests present; with what to the untrained eye might have seemed to be a small typo – that this massive agrarian scheme was not run by the Ministry of Agriculture or the Planning Commission, it was, in fact, a project of the Fauji Foundation.
Those in the know would be quick to correct the uninitiated.
We are told that the real Chief gave a stellar speech at the congregation, filled with extempore references from the Quran in Arabic that he translated for the assistance of the audience. He spoke of the economy and held forth statistics that dispelled the notion that we are teetering on the brink.
Real Chief sahib is reported to have stated that a Muslim has only two options in life: in challenging times, they are to exhibit ‘sabr’ and toil through their trials, and in times of plenty, they are to exhibit ‘shukr’ and exhibit forbearance, while thanking God for his mercy.
CJ Bandial should have earlier learnt the lesson the real Chief sahib taught us all at the agro summit. Instead, CJ Bandial showed sabr in times of plenty and is now learning he has to show shukr even though he is left with nothing. And we have a court of final resort which the government isn’t really listening to. Worse still, there is a growing sense that the court doesn’t really expect them to listen.
We used to have moot court in university. Everyone would dress up and play lawyer, trying to sound as righteous as possible about our cause. Some of us would play judges, borrowing wigs from the university’s music, arts and drama (MAD) society. My more academically enthusiastic colleagues paid attention to every minute detail and treated the entire process seriously. But there was always one fundamental difference with real life: whatever we decided, it didn’t really matter. No one listened to our declarations, and we didn’t expect them to. The positions we mooted for and against seemed real enough, but they represented fictional interests.
This is what CJ Bandial has reduced our Supreme Court to.
CJ Bandial should have earlier learnt the lesson the real Chief sahib taught us all at the agro summit. Instead, CJ Bandial showed sabr in times of plenty and is now learning he has to show shukr even though he is left with nothing. And we have a court of final resort which the government isn’t really listening to. Worse still, there is a growing sense that the Court doesn’t really expect them to listen.
The lesson here is simple, and applies to all future chiefs: use justice as a shield to protect the weak. Use it without fear or favor and as many times as it is necessary. No more and no less. If you use justice as a sword to support your preferred players among the mighty, you might be taught lessons in sabr and shukr. Even if it may be too late in your own tenure to learn those lessons, the consequences of being taught them by the real Chief will outlast you. The tears that will ensue will not be because of tear gas – and all that is burning will be your own fault.