The stability of the civilian government in Pakistan and the country’s political equilibrium now depend on a peculiar algorithm. Since its dismissal of Yousaf Raza Gilani in June, the Pakistan supreme court has decided to lock horns with the government every two weeks. From June 27, when the court asked the new prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, to indicate whether he would do its bidding, the country has gone into a tizzy every fortnight. Another date — August 8 — was set on July 25 by the court, which refused to entertain Mr Ashraf’s plea that the court order asking the prime minister to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the graft cases against the president was unconstitutional and thereby “un-implementable”. Pakistan’s prime ministers, it seems, never tire of repeating the same excuses and the supreme court never tires of hearing them. And so, another date has been decided for the re-enactment of the show. The supreme court, however, may go into a repeat performance with its shining armour a little tarnished. It realizes that its summary dismissal of Mr Gilani was not well received by the public, who gave a thumping victory to Mr Gilani’s son in the byelection for his seat. The judiciary is much more cautious than its tempestuous self in June. It has not only given Mr Ashraf a two-week-long lifeline, but has also reminded the Pakistan Peoples Party government that it could extend its own lifespan by asking for a review of the court orders against its prime ministers. Such a change of temper could only be dictated by a relative assessment of the strengths, or weaknesses, of the judiciary pitted against the executive. The government, having worked out a political rapprochement with the Opposition and convinced that it is not completely bereft of popular support, is on a strong wicket. The fact could have hardly gone unnoticed by the image-conscious judiciary.
The shadow-boxing between the two State institutions behind the façade of upholding constitutional supremacy is pushing the nation in dangerous directions. As the child of this unholy battle, Pakistan now has a contempt of court legislation that grants total immunity to high officials against court action for an indeterminate period of time. Devised to shield its prime ministers, the PPP government has made sure that corrupt civil servants remain perpetually out of the reach of the law — a sure case of jumping from the frying pan to the fire.