Pakistani institutions have always found it hard to stay within their prescribed boundaries. Be it for personal gain, or for a misplaced sense of patriotism, the institutions have treated constitutional conventions as mere ‘guidelines’ to be discarded at will; we all remember the military’s forays into politics. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, the protector of the constitution, has itself had difficulty interpreting its constitutional role. The former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took judicial activism to dangerous new heights. By taking suo moto notices of everything from errant drinking parliamentarians to the prices of sugar, it brought the judiciary into policymaking; the realm of the government. The judiciary of 1970s and 1990s on the other hand, forgot its job and willingly rolled over and became party to the abrogation of the constitution. It is a tough path to follow, that of the apex court. It is encouraging to see the present judiciary managing to keep its toe behind the line, especially under such trying circumstances.

The principle of ‘separation of powers’ holds that the powers of the state must be divided amongst its institutions, to minimise the chances of state oppression. While the constitutional court will pass judgment on ministerial powers, parliamentary functions, compatibility of acts of parliament and issues of accountability, it cannot be involved in policymaking and political issues

The court of Chief justice Nasirul Mulk has so far treaded a hesitant and mature line. While the Lahore High Court was quick to declare the marches unconstitutional, the Supreme Court refrained from taking up such a politically motivated position and allowed the protestors to protest. Its direction to vacate Constitutional Avenue was not an order to the parties, but a provisional direction to the government to create only such space to allow for the proper functioning of the court. Yet such passivity can come at a price, something the court is apparently aware of. With question marks being raised over the government’s future, the court has reiterated the supremacy of the Constitution and that any action taken against it will be struck down. One hopes this maturity is the evolution of an institution that is here to stay.