The unrelenting campaign against the independent judiciary seems to have kicked up again, and the target this time is not only the Chief Justice of Pakistan who is due to retire in a few weeks but also several other senior judges of the Supreme Court who are expected to carry forward his legacy. Obviously, the determined detractors of independent judiciary don’t want that to happen. The question is: what is the legacy that they are so afraid of and so eager to dismantle?

While no individual or institution should be above accountability or criticism, the campaign against the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court, which was initiated even before their restoration, is something else. It is not based on facts or guided by any desire for improvement in the system but is fuelled by false and petty accusations and an intense hatred for all that the Chief Justice stands for. The fastidious nit-picking and malicious mud-raking is designed to obscure his truly monumental achievements.

The Supreme Court under the Chief Justice has been hard to swallow for an incestuous and elitist power structure where everyone is used to sleeping with everyone else to promote personal interests. Whether they are political or military, business or bureaucratic, the elites of all hues are used to their above-the-law status and do not like to be held accountable for their abuse of power and corruption. Traditionally, the courts have been a part of the same rotten structure and there was nothing to worry about. The elites became incensed when instead of riding the same stinking boat, the Chief Justice decided to rock it.

Perhaps the biggest achievement of the Chief Justice has been to restore the function of the courts as a check on these privileged power players and their above-the-law shenanigans. Whether it was the declaration of an unconstitutional emergency by the Chief of the Army Staff cum President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharaf or his devious NRO, the refusal of Prime Minister Gillani to follow court orders or illegal appointments made by him, the fake degree holders and dual nationals infesting the legislatures or the corrupt favours granted to rental power plants, the theft by the corporate-bureaucrat nexus or unconstitutional conduct of intelligence agencies, the Supreme Court upheld the rule of law without fear or favour.

The interpretation of the Constitution in larger public interest rather than for the benefit of the entrenched elites and a pro-active stance of the Supreme Court under the Chief Justice have also attracted a lot of criticism from the power players obsessed with using their privilege to enhance it further and maintaining an unjust status quo. They don’t want things to change. They’d like to carry on appointing their meritless relatives and friends to important government offices against the rules. They’d like their shady contracts to remain unchallenged. They don’t like the Constitution to hinder their illegal conduct.

Bred on privilege and gotten used to enjoying their above-the-law status, they abhor the idea of an institution that puts the larger public interest above everything else and insists on going by the book, neither afraid of their power nor eager to favour their riches. When it comes to the Supreme Court, they are at a loss without their favourite tools of influence and access that they have traditionally used to forward their interests through the murky corridors of power. They are frustrated by the fact that a powerful pillar of the state refuses to sleep with them.

This lobby of elitist power players and their minions in the Bars and the media thought they could browbeat the independent judiciary into playing ball with them. When that didn’t happen, they tried other tricks. Suitcases of cash were showered upon Bars for confronting the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was blamed for sabotaging democracy and the parliament and encroaching upon the turf of the executive. Baseless accusations were hurled at the Chief Justice and other judges to erode their credibility and authority. Currently, this appears to be the favourite weapon of the judiciary bashers.

Their modus operandi is clear. Raise a hue and cry about unproven charges of misconduct, cooked up charges of corruption and false accusations on the media. Spread lies and rumours on social media networks and in private circles. They distort facts and misrepresent judgments to prove their points. They are exceptionally good at lying and covering up those lies when caught. Eventually, if faced with serious consequences, they could always apologise. The idea is that the dirt kicked up by their remarks and accusations would remain suspended in the air even after their apologies that are never publicised as much as their accusations. The idea is that their campaign would leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the public about the Supreme Court and erode its moral authority.

As the end of the Chief Justice’s tenure draws close, another propaganda trick is being employed. The Chief Justice is being accused of not achieving anything. The devious detractors point at all the unimplemented decisions and would like to blame the independent judiciary for lack of results. What is one to understand from this? That the independent judiciary is responsible for the inaction of the executive? Those cheering the loudest and bucking up the executive for standing up to the judiciary and subverting its decisions through every means at its disposal are now blaming the judiciary for failure, as if it is the responsibility of the courts to not only pass orders but also to execute them. Nothing could be more absurd than this.

It is true that the Supreme Court under the Chief Justice could have been more effective had the PPP government not been on a mission to subvert it. After all, it takes more than a single pillar of the state to put the house in order. But even if the judgments were only partially implemented, the Chief Justice succeeded in creating an alternative non-elitist narrative of governance by making the Supreme Court independent of powerful interests.

The writer is a freelance columnist.