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The Gyrating Judge

by Newsweek Pakistan

Pakistan’s judiciary must not allow itself to continue being embroiled in Islamabad’s perennial political instability

Supreme Court of Pakistan Chief Justice Saqib Nisar has got so “activized” that Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had to clarify at a political rally on April 1 that the “judicialization” of politics was not good for democracy because it enfeebled the institutions through jurisdictional trespass.

The Economist on March 28, 2018, counted the ways the honorable judge was gyrating within the system in the run-up to the 2018 elections: “Mr. Nisar’s actions distort national politics. His impromptu visits to hospitals prompt coverage harmful to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the ruling party. Most of his complaints focus on Punjab, the party’s stronghold. He has threatened to shut down the Orange Line, the first phase of Lahore’s new metro system, if the government does not improve health and education… Indeed, the actual opposition, in the form of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a party led by Imran Khan, often plays second fiddle to the courts, applauding the chief justice’s rulings.”

When activism strikes the chief judge it often goes unopposed by the other judges of the top court. But this time at least two judges have expressed some objection to their hyperactive chief’s indulgence. One judge has pointed to the “weak verdict” that ousted P.M. Nawaz Sharif while the Court was busy with the chief’s activism. Another judge refused his formal sendoff meetings before retiring, citing “personal reasons,” which was taken to mean his past expressions of opposition to the judiciary getting “political.”

Justice Nisar apparently doesn’t care that some opinion is critical of what he is doing. He has correctly sensed that the “system” is opposed to the Sharif government, including most of the TV news channels that shape public opinion. Pakistan is mired in economic and political crises in the region and doesn’t seem able to stem the tide of international opinion turning against it. Its perennial political instability is once again playing its role and the Supreme Court is in the thick of this turmoil.

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