What are their lordships grappling with?


What are their lordships grappling with?

Ayaz Amir

Isn’t the Panama judgment taking a bit too long? Granted, momentous issues are at stake. A prime minister and his family could be exonerated, and if this were to happen imagine the effect this would have on the nation’s morale. Or, if the judgment goes against them and they are held guilty, that would mean a political cataclysm—the government in disarray, the ruling PML-N in turmoil and the next elections wide open, meaning to say anything could happen.

Some of us hopefuls were expecting the judges to come up with their verdict in March, the Ides of March, which is the 15th of the month, I said in a column. Then some of us said that, no, their lordships were waiting for March 23, Republic Day, to pass. They couldn’t possibly trigger turmoil and uncertainty before then, we confidently affirmed. Now we are into the middle of April, the wheat-harvesting season has started and it seems that their lordships—our Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse—are still at their task.

 In the Bible the Four Horsemen are War, Famine, Conquest and Death. In the Pakistani context a fifth horseman can be added: mindlessness or the loss of reason. In many ways we have become a mindless society nurturing attitudes and fantasies that can only be called ‘sick’. Who or what will cure us of this malady? How can Pakistan become a normal society?

My Lord Mansoor Ali Shah, Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, has offered one prescription relating to the administration of justice. Addressing junior judges he has advised them to take “bold decisions” even at the cost of incurring someone’s displeasure. This is well said but the question is, from where will judges, junior or senior, discover the requisite bravery?

Supposed terrorists are brought before them and judges fear for their lives. So the army in desperation pushes forward a proposal for the establishment of military courts and civil society activists and intrepid members of the bar exclaim in horrified voices that civil liberties and fundamental rights are at stake. The criminal justice system cannot deliver. What the courts deliver is not justice but endless delay, which favours the terrorist and the criminal alike. Members of the bar are active abettors of this process of delay. But the bar does not favour anyone or anything else filling the breach.

The judges are now independent in their own domain, sole masters of their house, answerable to no one for promotion and preferment. Indeed, the judiciary has never been more independent in its history. But in this climate of judicial freedom has the delivery of justice become quicker and more effective?

About the great lawyers’ movement we hopefuls said that it would once and for all lay down the foundations of the rule of law and usher in a golden period in which truth and justice would prevail. Whether anything on that lofty level was achieved, two immediate consequences have come about: having tasted a semblance of power, lawyers turned into not sharper practitioners of the law but into pugilists and experts in Thai boxing. And they became more expensive. Justice in Pakistan today, justice that the courts are supposed to dispense, is now outside the reach of the man or woman of limited means. To engage even a middling lawyer you need a minor fortune.

And those who have the means to engage lawyers of choice look not just to their legal knowledge or acumen but also to the figure they cut in court. What is their nuisance value? To what extent can they browbeat or otherwise exert pressure on the court? These are valid considerations today when it comes to the selection of lawyers.

So the question becomes all the more urgent: from where to get the booster shots that will give courage not just to judges but all other tiers of the criminal justice system, from investigating policemen to prosecutors and finally judges? It is not an easy question to answer.

This is a society based on cruelty and injustice, the rule of the powerful and the privileged and the haplessness of the weak and defenceless. In this climate who is interested in justice? Mashal Khan’s father says that much as he respects the courts he expects no justice from them. That is why he asks that the shocking case involving his son’s murder at the hands of a vigilante mob composed of his fellow students be tried in a military court. What will civil society activists say to this?

Brave judges are required but more than that brave citizens are required. We have become a cowardly society. Someone only has to allege an act of blasphemy and everyone goes quiet…from police officers to ordinary citizens. No one bothers to find out whether there is any basis to the charge. It can be an Aasia Bibi or a Rimsha Maseeh, a Christian couple working at a brick kiln in Kasur, someone in Gojra, in Gujranwala or Joseph Colony in Lahore…a blasphemy accusation has only to be made for both courage and reason to depart and for fear and bigotry to take their place.

Enough said…what is the use of this lamentation? Will anything change? We are not even a fanatical society. We may decry fanaticism but fanaticism is a dynamic emotion…just as hatred is a dynamic emotion. Daesh or the Islamic State is fanatical. The Taliban are fanatical. Their votaries or soldiers are willing to die for whatever they believe in, and that is what makes them so dangerous.

But ours is a dead, inert society. Our people—such as the mob in the Abdul Wali Khan University—are all too ready to inflict death and suffering on the hapless and the weak. Ask them to stretch themselves a bit for the weak and powerless and they will state at you with blank faces.

The Abdul Wali Khan University has lost its right to exist. If this is the kind of student it has produced—and you have to look at the video to see the frenzy gripping them as they beat Mashal or his dead body—it is best if this ‘seat of learning’ were closed. If this were Maoist China the students of this university, plus the faculty from the vice-chancellor downwards, would be sent to re-education camps and put at hard labour for the next ten years. But we can rest assured nothing of the sort will happen because rampaging mobs in our republic dedicated to the greater glory of the faith have a virtual licence to kill.

Back to the first question: what are their lordships grappling with? When will their decision come? When will the long wait end? So much hangs on it. Simply put, the decision can either generate more cynicism than we have ever seen before—with people confirmed in their fatalistic belief that in this country nothing will ever change—or it can shake the pillars of the status quo and open up the possibility of a real change in the country’s fortunes.

Turkey has just had its referendum which will set the course of the country’s future. Pakistan’s fate hinges on a court verdict. We can only hope it is a just one and rises to the people’s expectations.

Courtesy : dunyanews.tv