111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Thriving on confusion

A few weeks ago, I felt intrigued by a development in national affairs that made big headlines. I asked a friend who I believed had access to inside information as to what it actually meant. “Can’t you see?” he said. “The idea is to create confusion. That is the game plan”.

It is possible that he was speaking with tongue in cheek, not willing to initiate a serious discussion. But there does seem to be a divine strategy to keep the people of this country in a state of bewilderment, constantly unsure about the direction in which the country is moving.

And so, here are the latest twists and turns in the story, playing out in the domain of the higher judiciary. Simultaneously, so much more is happening on other fronts. As it is, the focus has for long been on the elections that are now less than a month away and the political drill is resoundingly gaining pace, though not without a hint of confusion about how the elections will be conducted and whether they can still be delayed.

There is no doubt that we are now in the midst of another crisis in Pakistan’s political history. Interestingly, the cast of characters appears to be broader and more varied this time. It is for the first time, for instance, that some proceedings of the Supreme Court are telecast live from Courtroom 1. For those who are interested, it provides a rare and exciting admission into a rarefied setting where decisions that affect our destiny are made.

But this week’s electrifying developments involving judges of the apex court were enacted off-camera. First, on Wednesday, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, facing complaints of misconduct, resigned. He did so a day before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) was scheduled to meet to take up this matter. “In the circumstances which are a matter of public knowledge and to some extent public record, it is no longer possible for me to continue to serve as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan”, he said in his letter of resignation.

Justice Naqvi’s resignation was called surprising by commentators because a judge is expected to face an SJC inquiry in a juridical manner and the example of how Justice Qazi Faez Isa and his wife had braved a similar ordeal was widely cited. But what really came as a bolt from the blue was the resignation on the next day, Thursday, of Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan.

Now this was something that set a thousand tongues wagging. After all, Justice Ahsan was in line to become the chief justice after the retirement of present Chief Justice Isa on November 25 this year. Why would he bow out voluntarily less than a year before his right to become the chief justice?

It is obvious that Justice Ahsan’s resignation was prompted by the resignation of his colleague, Justice Naqvi, a day earlier. However, the resignation letter does not offer any clarifications in this regard. According to published speculation, Justice Naqvi’s resignation had left him red-faced because he, Justice Ahsan, had defended Justice Naqvi in the SJC. It was said that Justice Ahsan was involved in a controversy over him hearing a case of a former client.

Essentially, Justice Ahsan’s resignation has brought under the spotlight an entire era of the Supreme Court’s performance, with specific reference to a number of judgments delivered during the tenure of two former chief justices. It is to be noted that after Justice Isa became the chief justice, differences between him and Justice Ahsan became evident. This would be expected because Justice Ahsan was seen to have belonged to the Bandial Group.

Justice Ahsan has not elaborated on his reasons for resigning. “I no longer wish to continue as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan”, he said in his one-page resignation. But observers had a long list of explanations as well as speculations. Was another reference before the SJC in the offing? Would there be more resignations? Is this some kind of a purge? What does this say about the future of a seemingly fractured institution?

There are unanswered questions and rumours galore. And if the issues that relate to the apex court breed any anxiety about the validity of the judicial process, there are other ‘darkling plains’ where, as the poet said, ‘ignorant armies clash by night’. One overriding concern is about the increase in terror activities and intimations of violence against certain political players.

On Friday, the Counter Terrorism Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said that it had arrested two suicide bombers allegedly involved in planning an attack on JUI-F chief Fazlul Rehman and Awami National Party’s Aimal Wali Khan.

Adding to a number of ambiguous moves that have recently been made on the political chessboard, a fresh resolution was submitted to the Senate Secretariat on Friday, seeking a three-month delay in the elections, citing an increase in attacks on candidates. Where do these flimsy initiatives come from and what can happen to subvert a process that has advanced to a high level?

Yes, there are still some concerns about the outcome and the consequences of this electoral exercise. Foremost among these concerns is whether the elections would be certified as free and fair, given the problems that the PTI has to deal with. And the big question is whether the forthcoming elections, irrespective of how they are conducted, will lead to stability and progress.

Globally, 2024 is the year of elections. More than half of the world’s population will have an opportunity to vote in about 70 countries. But there is general agreement that most of these elections will neither be free nor fair. Last Sunday’s elections in Bangladesh may have set an example. We can do better, but true democratic governance is likely to remain beyond our reach.

But will the confusion that now resides in our minds be diminished to some extent on February 9, 2024? Will there be any clarification about where we are going?

Ghazi Salahuddin, "Thriving on confusion," The News. 2024-01-14.
Keywords: Political science Political issues , Political players , Democratic , Judiciary , Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi , Aimal Wali Khan , Pakistan , SJC