Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar has responded to the charge that the judiciary has erred by taking on cases that were political and divisive by saying: “I swear to God that I have no political agenda but what I want or wish to see is the availability of clean drinking water, basic health facilities and food to the people of Pakistan.”
He didn’t address the “political” problem at all; he simply forgave himself the spree of suo motu cases he is setting up. His recent bout of cheap populism, especially within the context of a third world environment, is poison for a chief justice. He should have harked back to the tenure of his predecessor Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry (2005-2013), who began with a lot of goodwill at the popular level but became painful to bear as he undid such important reforms as the denationalization of the spectacularly loss-making Steel Mills.
Not tackling political cases has become advisable for all judiciaries of the world. You get into the dirty business of toppling governments that politicians love and you ruin your reputation as an impartial judge.
There was a time when the judiciary shrank from brawling with the executive. Iftikhar Chaudhry began the trend as if to compensate for all those comatose years of regular judicial process. He made “suo motu” a source of dread. The lawyers who loved this phase said India, too, had an activist Supreme Court; but when you asked the Indians they said, yes, but Pakistan was overdoing the stuff.
By 2007, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry could have hit the Guinness Book with his 6,000 suo motu cases. Add self-dramatization to suo motu through references to American fiction and you have a falsely postured court going in the wrong direction.