Mr Babar Awan’s comments before the media on receipt of the contempt of court notice issued to him and four other PPP stalwarts, on Wednesday, seemed to have taxed the Supreme Court’s patience to an extent that it put aside the Bhutto reference case it was due to hear on Thursday. Instead, it questioned Mr Awan, who appeared before it representing the federal government on the reference case, about the appropriateness of his comments and whether he believed they reflected the dignity that was due to the court. Mr Awan took the view that they were in appreciation of the court rather than contempt of it. After viewing a video of the comments, part of which consisted of Mr Awan reciting a Punjabi couplet, followed by consulting the Supreme Court Bar Association President and Vice President, who felt that these comments were derogatory in nature, the court issued another contempt of court notice to Mr Babar Awan, directing him to appear before it on January 9 to explain his conduct. This was the second such notice given to him within the past two days. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry remarked that he was issuing statements every day against the court, which had issued him a licence to practice as a lawyer. Justice Chaudhry, heading the 11-member bench, further asked Mr Babar Awan why his licence should not be cancelled.

The court rightly believed that unless the judiciary was shown due respect, the business of state would be seriously affected. The Chief Justice asked Mr Awan, “If you do not respect the state’s institutions, then who will?" The court was so perturbed at his repeated, questionable observations that it maintained that it would not hear the Bhutto reference case, till the contempt case against Mr Awan was decided. The earlier contempt of court notice was issued in response to the press conference held on December 1, soon after the SC had rejected the NRO review petition. This case too, will come up for hearing on January 13.

The government’s attitude towards the judiciary has all along been testing of their patience. Not willing to restore the deposed judges initially, it only felt compelled to restore them after the long march and the pressure of powerful forces in the country left it with no other option. However, it appears, it decided at the same time not to abide by those verdicts that went against it. Hence, today, there exists a large tally of judgments, the most important being the nullification of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, that have not been implemented. On one pretext or other, the government has been adopting delaying tactics. And in several cases, it has even acted in violation of the SC’s pronouncements. This is a sad state of affairs. One cannot possibly conceive of a democratic system where the judiciary is contemptuously defied and ridiculed. If nothing else, this attitude that has created disaffection among the people constitutes the greatest threat to the democratic order in Pakistan.