Though by default but the independent media and independent judiciary are the best things that have ever happened in this land of the pure. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf ended the government’s monopoly on the electronic media and allowed freedom of speech not because he believed that it is an essential ingredient of a democratic polity. But because he wanted to provide legitimacy to his coup by playing on the sensitivities of the Western countries for whom ‘freedom of speech’ is almost an article of faith. This really worked for him till he committed the blunder of putting curbs on the media, in the wake of the lawyers’ movement initiated for the restoration of the deposed judiciary. The media, indeed, played a significant role in building public opinion against the actions of the dictator and his ultimate removal from the scene.

The Chief Justice and his colleagues, who were dismissed by Musharraf, had taken oath under PCO and some of them were also on the bench that had legitimised the military take over. The reaction against their dismissal was actually the culmination of the frustration and the feelings of aversion to Musharraf’s style of governance, which had been simmering among the masses since long. The lawyers hijacked the episode and deftly stoked it into a movement for an independent judiciary. The hype created by the media won support of all segments of the society and the judges were restored after the departure of the dictator. Thus, the independent judiciary came into existence.

Nevertheless, these developments have proved a blessing in disguise. The media has played a very significant role in ensuring that the people of Pakistan fully enjoy the fruits of their fundamental right to know and nothing about matters pertaining to governance and public interest remains under wraps anymore; notwithstanding the fact that in doing so, it quite often descends into the realm of scandal mongering and violation of the professional and ethical codes of conduct. This can be excused considering the fact that the lid has been actually lifted prematurely without ensuring the presence of other ingredients for freedom of expression and the fact that this is a transitional period with all the accompanying distractions and detours.

It is universally believed that a populace could govern itself, if it was well informed. US President James Madison said: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”

Similarly, Hugo Black, a judge of the US Supreme Court, observed: “Guarantee for a free press rests upon the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the well-being of the people.”

What can be inferred from the foregoing is that the freedom of expression and people’s right to information are essential ingredients for tranquillity and progress of a democratic polity and the media outlets are the forum to promote and strengthen these fundamental rights. Any objective observer would ungrudgingly agree that the Pakistani media, with all its shortcomings, has played a sterling role in keeping the people informed.

Like the media, the apex court and its judges has, undoubtedly, given some landmark decisions in the corruption cases, which were lingering for a long time, leading to the recovery of billions of rupees. This has, indeed, sent a very loud and clear message that nobody can take the national exchequer for a ride and if anybody dares to indulge in this detestable practice, he or she will not be able to get away with it.

Due to these judgments, a new culture of accountability has started taking root; an auspicious development for the future of the country. In fact, the combination of independent media and proactive judiciary has made sure that no adventurer ever entertains the thought of unconstitutional steps and democracy marches on uninterrupted. Here one must also admire the political acumen and the creed of political reconciliation practiced by the present government.

The judiciary has also proved its credentials of independence by erasing the hitherto permeating impression that it was only targeting the political leaders, particularly the present government, and had no courage to hold the khakis accountable for their acts of omission and commission.

The Supreme Court decision in the Asghar Khan case is a ranting testimony of the judiciary being really independent and non-partisan. The decision has not only identified the malaise that has afflicted our body politic for long, but has also unmasked the characters and the institutions who have been playing a sinister game to subvert the people’s will, pummelling the constitution and keeping the PPP away from the corridors of power. The PPP, undoubtedly, stands vindicated.

Now that the disease has been diagnosed and its causes clearly spelled out, it should be ensured that the villains do not escape the dragnet of justice and have to pay for their misdeeds. The Supreme Court would do well to take the initiative itself to punish the culprits before the next elections.

The media also has a role to play, here, in building the public opinion and educating the masses about the seriousness of the matter. This matter should be settled once and for all so that the people can move forward with the confidence that their march towards their cherished destiny, as envisioned by the father of the nation, will not be disrupted by ever again.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: ashpak10@gmail.com