In a democratic political set-up, three institutions play the basic, but the most important, role in the management of the country’s domestic and international affairs. These institutions are the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. The legislative formulates, amends and promulgates laws and regulations governing individual and collective behaviour of the population; the executive enforces those laws and if those laws are violated, the judiciary ensures that the violators are punished and laws passed by people’s representatives are upheld. The executive supports the judiciary in upholding the verdicts announced and ensures the sanctity of laws. In Pakistan, however, we observe a deliberate tug of war between these three branches of the government. As a result, these august branches of our political set-up are losing their respect among the masses.

Our politicians constantly blame martial laws and military dictators for the deterioration of national institutions, which may be true to some degree. The track record of our politicians in this respect does not stand out in comparison. Military dictators being absolute rulers did influence all three branches to achieve their political ends; yet, they kept a façade of respect for all the branches of the government. One neither witnessed physical assaults on the courts, nor observed public ridicule of judiciary. The legislative and the executive also seemed to work in cooperation without any friction. The civilian rulers, in contrast, have a dismal record. Despite being the elected representatives, once in government they also adopt dictatorial methods in running its affairs. They behave in a manner, which demonstrates that they are not there to serve the law; law has to serve them.

All our political leaders once elected to Parliament shamelessly exhibit an attitude that amply shows that law is subservient to them. Though they pay lip service to the supremacy of law, they react in an intolerant manner, even on trivial matters. Recently, the nation witnessed on a television channel that a parliamentarian belonging to a party that claims to stand for the peoples rights, publicly threatening a police officer, who had rightly checked his car parked in a no-parking zone; they yell “violation of privileges” when they are checked on as minor a breach as using prohibited tinted glass windows on their vehicles. They amply show that they are above the law; law is for those who have no political clout, wealth or social status.

This defiance of law and court rulings is now becoming a common phenomenon in Pakistan; rulings of the apex court are not only disobeyed and disregarded, but also publicly subjected to sarcasm and ridicule. And this is done by the members of that party, who pride themselves as the upholders of law and order. This attitude by the ruling elite undermines the position of the courts and their orders across the entire social milieu. When people observe that court verdicts are not implemented, they tend to take law in their own hands and administer street justice. We have witnessed such events in Sialkot, Faisalabad and other places where alleged offenders were lynched in streets in front of spectators. Such episodes usher in political anarchy where the entire civilian edifice crumbles.

If one views the trend objectively, one feels that this attitude sets in when the high and mighty deal with legal charges or accusation on political grounds, instead of tackling them on legal arguments. This trend is common to all political parties in Pakistan, but it has reached the highest limits under the present administration. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) came to power after negotiating a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) with General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. The NRO condoned the past alleged corruption charges that were pending in various courts of law; this arrangement was facilitated by a former US Secretary of State, according to her own admission. But when the ordinance was challenged in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the response by the ruling party did not follow the established legal procedures. Instead the government adopted delaying methods; it changed the public attorneys and refused or stalled the investigations. The people have a common impression that the Chief Justice was always seen by the government as anti-President, who was restored by him under public and military pressure. Therefore, he and his loyalist have vowed to stall all legal proceedings where the President is directly or indirectly implicated.

The NRO legal battle has been settled and orders of the Supreme Court have been announced. But the PPP in its highest inner forum has decided not to implement these orders. Instead of taking a legal course - refuting the allegations by providing authentic evidence that could prove the falsehood of the charges - it has relied on sheer political power to defy court orders. The memo scandal has taken this anti-court attitude to new heights. The orders have been publicly ridiculed and mocked by those who hold high offices and party positions. The memo has created a political animosity between the most important and sensitive State organs, which are responsible for its security, stability and law and order. Though the apex court has established an inquiry commission on the memo, the PPP has decided not to respond to its requirements. The attitude displayed by the party stalwarts has compelled it to issue contempt notices to them; how they will respond to that only time will tell. If they react in the manner that they have been reacting, it will render Pakistan’s entire legal system and judiciary ineffective and despondent. What is ironic that members of the legal fraternity and the bars as organised bodies have not stood up to uphold the dignity and prestige of the judiciary; had they shown the same solidarity with the courts that they demonstrated for the restoration of the judiciary, the situation would have been better.

The question, however, is: Why does the PPP behave in this manner and what is its agenda? Our political thinkers and media intellectuals must debate this question, which is based on the ruling elites’ general performance. In the past four years, the government has failed to deliver. Its election manifesto was vague and it rode to success on sympathy votes that came its way due to the unfortunate and tragic assassination of its leader, who commanded great respect and prestige in the masses. During these years, the government has been plagued by the Haj financial scam, NILC scandal, electricity blackouts, gas loadshedding and immense price hikes in electricity, gas, petroleum products and everyday food and consumer commodities. Gas termination in industrial plants has rendered thousands of workers jobless with no hope of any revival in the near future. Large government organisations, like the Railways, Steel Mills and PIA, have become inoperable and are running in losses threatening the closure of these corporations. People accuse the government of obliging personal friends and jail colleagues of high persona with high offices and ministries they are unsuited for and indulging in large-scale corruption. In this political scenario, they think that the PPP faces bleak chances of any success in the next general elections. The arrogant attitude adopted by the ruling party against the State organs is a calculated strategy. They feel that this strategy will force the State institutions to initiate anti-democracy moves, which may oust the government and the party may become a political martyr a third time to gain public sympathy. The Prime Minister and other PPP leaders have hinted in this direction, even on the floor of the house; nevertheless, this blitz was so pronounced that the COAS had to state publicly that the army has no intention of embarking on any such adventure.

The political battles must be fought politically and legal battles need legal handling. The judiciary is an important organ of the State that endeavours to uphold the law of the land; its role and functions are well defined in the Constitution. Its wilful degradation and ridicule lowers its dignity and prestige in the eyes of the masses that look towards it for justice. A demoralised and discredited judiciary cannot uphold law and dispense justice. If this pillar of the State crumbles under the arrogance of the powerful, people will take the law in their hands and we will witness large-scale dispensing of street justice, which will spread anarchy in the country. If one pillar of the State apparatus is endangered, the others will not remain unaffected. This trend needs to be halted and our media can play a positive role in it; instead of broadcasting cat fights among the politicians on non-issues in their talk shows, the media should bring on saner intelligentsia to project importance of State organs and methods how that could be achieved. We need to stress that everyone is subject to law and must submit to it.

The writer is a retired brigadier and political analyst.