A two-judge bench of the Pakistani Supreme Court has directed all state agencies, including the government, army and intelligence to operate within their mandates. The court was delivering its verdict on a 2017 sit-in staged by groups, including the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), against an amendment to the declaration that public office holders are required to make. The Pakistani government reversed its amendment, but was unable to end the protests without involving the all-powerful army. The Supreme Court has censured the role played by the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during the protest. “The perception that the ISI may be involved in or interferes with matters an intelligence agency should not be concerned with, including politics, therefore was not put to rest,” the court said.
This is remarkable because the army and the ISI are rarely castigated in this manner by either the government or the judiciary in Pakistan. The supreme court had also done its reputation no harm by upholding the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman charged with blasphemy, despite widespread outrage by hardline elements in Pakistani society and clergy. If the Pakistani judiciary can make independent decisions like these in the future, it is certainly to be welcomed. However, the track record of the Supreme Court does not inspire confidence.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has, on multiple occasions, helped the Pakistani army in its nefarious designs against the civilian government. The former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted from office in 2017 on a trivial charge of failing to reveal a potential income from a Dubai-based company. Acting in the manner it did, the court dashed all hopes of finally a Pakistani prime minister completing his full tenure. Before Sharif, Yousaf Raza Gilani was also dismissed from the prime ministership in 2012 on charges of contempt of court. The controversial dismissal of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1996 was upheld by the court without much of a problem. In addition, the Supreme Court has had no objection to the Pakistan army’s idea of using military courts to try terrorism-related offences. The Indian citizen Kulbhushan Jadhav has been given a death sentence by a military court against all known norms of jurisprudence. This latest show of spine by the Supreme Court is good, but it remains to be seen how long it will last.