The apex court has been in the limelight ever since the CJP formally took up the Panamagate case and subsequently constituted a 5-member bench to hear this case last month. Indeed this act significantly enhanced the stature and image of the superior court judges in the country. However, shortly afterward, some controversies instantly gripped these honourable judges of the apex court. There was witnessed a smear campaign on social media against these judges as soon as the outgoing Chief Justice of Pakistan decided to suspend the proceedings of the Panamagate case on some purely technical grounds. Regrettably, a number of senior leaders of the mainstream political parties, namely the PTI and PPP, also deliberately tried to dispute the integrity and impartiality of these judges. Similarly, the apex court was also verbally attacked by various PML-N leaders, especially the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali, when the Quetta inquiry commission report was formally published on the SC website last week.

The fierce reaction on social media is no surprise as we have become accustomed to its typical arbitrary behaviour which is mostly devoid of any reason, logic or ethics. However, mainstream political parties are generally supposed to exhibit relatively responsible behaviour by avoiding unnecessarily and explicit criticism the conduct of the judges of the superior courts. When a 5-member bench of the apex court sought PML-N’s opinion vis-a-vis the formation of inquiry commission in Panamagate case, its legal team responded by requiring the trial court to decide this question itself. So the PTI, which is one of the petitioners in this case, should also have followed suit. But strangely, it simply opposed this move and asked the trial court to decide this case, probably on the basis of material available on the record.

Once a party moves the court to get its legal rights determined, it is supposed to put its full confidence and trust in the court. It cannot dictate its terms to the court. For the ends of justice, the court adopts any particular legal method which it deems appropriate and reasonable to decide a case. Instead of taking the likes and dislikes of either party into account, the court decides a case on its merits after adopting a due legal process. Therefore, neither the apex court is bound to decide the Panamagate case strictly in accordance with the wishes of PTI, nor is the PTI is justified so excessively dictating its terms to the court.

The Panamagate proceedings in the apex court are quasi-criminal proceedings as they may give rise to some penal actions against the defendants. They will finally determine the truth or falsehood of the specific charges leveled against the PM Nawaz Sharif regarding owning offshore accounts and assets. So the Prime Minster of Pakistan may also be disqualified as a result of these proceedings. Under the law of the land, even an ordinary person involved in a petty offence cannot be tried in any criminal court without a preliminary inquiry or investigation legally conducted by a competent investigative agency. This sort of inquiry or investigation certainly help the trial court efficiently conclude a criminal case. Therefore, it would be quite absurd to assume that the apex court would decide the high-profile Panamagate case without conclusively determine all the legal and factual questions involved in this case after a substantial inquiry.

In my previous columns, I emphasised the need for the formation of an efficient inquiry commission to thoroughly investigate the multiple aspects of this complex case. Now the outgoing CJP also looks probably reluctant to proceed with this case without conducting such inquiry. Under Article 10-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, every citizen is entitled to a fair trial and due process. So nobody should favour the denial of this basic citizenship right to PM Nawaz Sharif in the Panamagate case. The PTI should behave like a mature political party inside and outside the court.

PTI’s current stance regarding the constitution of an inquiry commission in the Panamagate case is diametrically opposed to its previous position on this matter. PTI leaders have constantly been endeavouring for the formation of an independent inquiry commission ever since the Panama-leaks scandal first surfaced in April this year. They have also held many protest rallies across the country for this purpose. Thus PTI’s current position on this issue is quite inexplicable. Certainly, at this stage, PTI is primarily responsible for the current suspension of the Panamagate proceedings in the apex court. Had PTI not threatened to boycott the proposed inquiry proceedings in this case, the 5-member bench would have constituted an inquiry commission to further probe this case.

While criticising the judges of the apex court for showing leniency in Panamagate case, it shouldn’t be ignored that the apex court was not strictly bound to hear this highly-politicised case. Primarily it was the responsibility of various investigative agencies to look into this case. Similarly, it was a task of the 12-member parliamentary committee to frame ToR’s for the Panama-leaks Inquiry commission. The apex court timely intervened only to avert a political chaos in the country in the wake of PTI’s intended Islamabad lock-down plan. Therefore, the Panamagate proceedings were a favour granted by the apex court to the petitioners in this case. Now there is no point in unnecessarily looking a gift horse in the mouth.

The PTI shouldn’t sabotage these important proceedings through its irresponsible and irrational behaviour. Indeed a reasonable time-frame can be set for the conclusion of inquiry proceedings. Similarly, the new bench can also be requested to speedily conclude this case. All political parties should extend unqualified moral support to the judges of the apex court when this case is resumed after the constitution of a new bench. Obviously no judges should unnecessarily be criticised or scandalised by any quarter.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan published the Quetta inquiry commission report last week. Having taken suo motu notice of the unfortunate August 8 Quetta carnage, a single-member inquiry commission, led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, was formed by the outgoing CJP in October this year. Besides pointing out the ineffective enforcement of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), this commission report has identified a number of lacunas in the implantation of National Action Plan in the country. This report also contains many valuable recommendations for effective containment of terrorism and extremism.

Although this inquiry has been conducted by a serving judge of the superior court, yet technically these proceedings are not judicial proceedings. Therefore, instead of instantly publishing this report on its website, the apex court should have further proceeded with this suo motu case. After hearing the individuals blamed in this report, the CJP can conclusively fix the responsibility for the unfortunate Quetta incident. Obviously no one should be condemned unheard. This commission report is only a part of the suo motu case which is yet to be concluded after due legal process.

The Quetta inquiry report has severely criticised the performance of the Ministry of Interior. As a matter of fact, the NACTA is primarily responsible for the implementation of NAP in Pakistan. The Prime Minister, being the chairman of the BOG of NACTA, is supposed to mobilise this premier organisation to implement NAP. On the other hand, a provincial government is responsible for enforcing the Anti-terrorism Act through its primary enforcement agency- the police. Therefore, the Ministry of Interior alone can’t be blamed for the ineffective or non-implantation of the NAP and ATA. The federal and provincial governments are collectively responsible for this counter-terrorism failure.

The institutional role of the judiciary in combating terror has never been so satisfactory. The establishment of military trial courts confirm this fact. Presently many political parties are doing politics on the Quetta commission report. In fact, no political party has ever been ideally committed to the cause of counter-terror in Pakistan. A pot has no right to call kettle black. Surely, instead of pointing fingers at others, some sincere and concerted endeavours are needed to nip the menace of terrorism in the bud.