IN these times of fiendish complexity and downright confusion, simple narratives break down time and again. The Supreme Court has taken on the government in a highly destabilising fight that many fear could end up interrupting the democratic project yet again. But time and again, Chief Justice Chaudhry has bluntly warned off anyone contemplating ‘extra constitutional’ measures, promising that the court would not countenance a violation of the constitution. Both aspects of the court’s interventionism are equally real: it has kept a democratically elected government under inordinate pressure, thereby possibly opening the door to a scuttling of the system, while at the same time acting as a bulwark against direct military rule, the legacy of the refusal to bow before Gen Musharraf a second time continuing to live on.
As far as the possibility of direct military rules goes, there is perhaps an unprecedented public consensus in the country that the army does not have the answers to Pakistan’s problems and should stay out of governance and politics. That the people have found an ally in the Supreme Court at this critical juncture may prove to be a historical contingency with long-lasting effects. For much as the corruption, incompetence and venality of the present government is very real, as long as all other alternatives to an elected civilian government are not removed from the table, the democratic project will remain weak and liable to being knocked over. Having the bulk of the political class, the public at large and the Supreme Court on the same side of this argument can only be beneficial to the long-term prospects of democracy.
Having said that, the speculation that rises and falls with the fluctuating intensity of the struggle between the government and the judiciary is not of military rule but a so-called ‘soft option’ of an extended caretaker rule. Perhaps it would have been helpful, then, if the chief justice had clearly spelled out what he meant by the court standing in the way of ‘extra constitutional’ measures: did he also mean that an extended caretaker set-up would be in violation of the constitution? In these times of growing partisanship, more rabid legal circles argue that there may be some constitutional justification for such a set-up. But less partisan and more rational figures believe that sanctioning it would be nothing short of reviving the wretched doctrine of necessity, however much gloss is put over it in the name of protecting the fundamental rights of the people. A simple ‘no’ by the Supreme Court could quell much of the speculation that has gripped the political class. http://dawn.com/2012/07/14/cjs-warning/