If ever there was a reaffirmation of the present independence of the judiciary and its absolute determination to dispense justice come what may, it was the decision of a three-member bench of the Supreme Court to reject the federal and Punjab governments' appeals against the release of Hafiz Saeed by the Lahore High Court. As the three member bench, headed by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk and including Justice Jawad S Khawaja and Justice Rehmat Hussain Jafferi, so correctly pointed out, the government cannot confine a person simply on the basis of a mere stipulation and so far the state had failed to provide any hard evidence linking Hafiz Saeed, earlier head of the now-banned Lashkar-i-Taiba and now heading the Jammat-ud-Dawa, to the Mumbai terror attacks or to having links with Al Qaeda. The Pakistani state, willy nilly, has been under pressure from the US and India to act against Hafiz Saeed using the Mumbai terrorism; but for once the rule of law has been held and good or bad a Pakistani citizen has neither been "rendered" to the US or India nor been made to "disappear". Justice is not always popular, but that is what makes it so valuable for the protection of the ordinary person. Obviously the US and India will be displeased - especially the US where justice is certainly not being meted out to the likes of Dr Aafia Siddiqui and other Pakistani-origin US residents and citizens who are being picked up and incarcerated at will under the infamous US Homeland Security set up. If ever there was an argument against the jury system it is the manner in which the juries function in the US In any event, while many in Pakistan have a strong dislike for the creed of Hafiz Saeed, if one wants rule of law and an independent judiciary one must concede justice for all no matter how distasteful that may be for some. Equally important, the independence of the judiciary comes at a time when the political leadership, following the Musharraf regime's policies, has laid itself prostrate before the US and conceded everything demanded of it. This has included endangering its own citizens' security through following a US-dictated military-centric anti-terrorism policy; and undermining the citizens' economic wellbeing through the commitments on VAT and ever higher power prices along with food, energy and water scarcities. So it is doubly comforting to know that at least the senior judiciary is committed to dispensing justice and is not vulnerable to external pressures being brought upon the state of Pakistan because of the rather evident weaknesses of the present NRO-tainted regime. It has been interesting to see how, while the government has been playing politics, creating propaganda hypes and doling out state largesse with no questions asked, all in order to shift public sentiment away from support of the judiciary towards support for the President and his loyalists, the judiciary has carried on providing justice and asserting the rule of law. That is why it is the government's over-zealous supporters who are finding themselves in a soup, one way or another. In a desperate bid to argue the case for presidential immunity, Ms Wahab has created a religious controversy in which she now claims her life may be in danger As for Babar Awan - whose doctorate has been called into question - his sound and fury seemed to have ebbed away fast within the Supreme Court before the full bench hearing on the NRO. For days he had been holding forth on how ministers were not answerable to the courts and how the Swiss cases issue was a dead one and so on. Yet there he was appearing before a court as a minister All that bombast vanished before the Supreme Court where he was quizzed not on the immunity issue but on the $ 60 million that belonged to the people of Pakistan - a figure he was reminded was in the NAB records. He had not come prepared to argue any legal points because he thought he was going to do political grandstanding but the Judges of the SC never provided that political opportunity because of their mature handling of the issues and their focus on legalities and the rights of the Pakistani people to be protected against graft and corruption. All Awan could whimper was to question the $ 60 million amount - as if corruption was okay if the amount was "small" The message conveyed by that single absurdity revealed the thinking of the man and his political bosses - that if the amount was less than $ 60 million, the corruption was acceptable And what of the band of supporters who were seen jostling for position next to Awan outside the SC so that the President could see they had come to lend his loyal man support, on the television screens? They probably must have felt rather sheepish at the turn of events within the court room Perhaps if the Law Minister had focused more on law and legalities, and less on hysterical utterances, he would have saved himself a lot of embarrassment and avoided having to eat humble pie by seeing himself appear before the courts despite his boasts to the contrary. So all the effort of the government to malign the judiciary through the use of the media, some lawyers and of course the ministerial and other party loyalists seems to have fallen by the wayside because, as the CJP declared, justice will be done at all costs. The Judiciary is not out to curry political favour, but to assert the rule of law which alone can provide protection to the ordinary citizens against their abuse by the government and organs of the state. So, even when one is getting disheartened by what is not being addressed by the judiciary, or by some of the decisions taken, or the seeming inability of the judiciary to implement its decisions in the face of government defiance, it is vital to remember that all these issues to some extent reflect the difficulty in enforcing the rule of law, the assertion of an independent judiciary in a corrupt and weakly structured state system, and the total absence of effective, let alone good, governance. Justice and rule of law are the only way we can break the cycle of corruption, nepotism and state excesses that have been hindering our progress as an independent nation for over six decades. Perhaps we are finally going to be able to free ourselves of this malaise?