Evaluating Justice Mansoor Ali Shah

On Sat, Apr 27, 2024, Mr Justice Mansoor Ali Shah addressed the Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore. This was an address delivered with verve and the occasional flourish. There is little doubt that the recent letter of the six Justices of the Islamabad High Court had a lot to do with its content.

Shah Sahib stressed that the issue facing the judiciary was not essentially that of individual judges and their judgements, as it was that of the need for the judiciary to become a robust and independent institution free from all interference, against which a firewall needed to be erected. More than once he stressed that a weak judicial system would in turn weaken every institution, and this needed to be understood by these institutions.

After the address, some of us friends sat around and discussed it with the same enthusiasm as once we used to discuss a great performance by our cricket team during our better days when Pakistan was a normal country and still inspired hope.

Most of us were of the view that when he referred to “these institutions”, he had in mind the ISI and other spy agencies….or at least we hoped that that was the case. The essential issue that interested us about his address was, how much of it was meant, and how much of it was mere hackneyed verbiage, and hence, meaningless. In short, we were interested in knowing its degree of sincerity.

Our discussion ended when the oldest and the quietest among us finally declared: “if you want to know if Justice Shah was sincere, all you need to do is to take the trouble of scanning his judgements. See if he has been standing with Qazi Faez Isa in these or with the spirit as represented by Justice Babar Sattar. Indeed, over the last few months, whether a judge was of the ilk of Qazi Faez Isa and Amir Farooq, or he stood in Babar Sattar’s corner, seems imperceptibly to have become the measure of the intent and integrity of a judge in a morally impoverished Pakistan.

On April 29, the case of the letter of the six judges was again heard in the Supreme Court. Those with a soft corner for Justice Mansoor Ali Shah must have been edified by the force and clarity of his remarks. These left little doubt that his speech, delivered two days earlier, was sincerely meant.

Qazi Faez Isa deserves a prize for the consistency he brings to dishonesty and hypocrisy. His total effort seemed to be dedicated towards how not to tackle the subject of interference in the judiciary by institutional reform. He could not help insisting that during his “time” there had been no interference in the functioning of the judiciary and that except for the Islamabad High Court, no other High Court had alleged the same, whereas in fact, ALL the others had done so.

Qazi Faez Isa was so bad, in fact, that even stupid Mandokhel seemed to be shifting away from him. This will leave him alone with Musarrat Hilali in the Supreme Court. Perhaps he always wanted it so arranged, but did not have the courage to say so.

Justice Athar Minallah has a lot to atone for, especially for giving bail to Nawaz Sharif and springing him from prison by asking the government to prove that this patient of falling platelets would still be alive two days hence, failing which bail became his of right. Since that time he has been trying to climb back into grace, and keeps taking one or two steps in that direction in every trial. He took a couple of these steps on April 29 as well, and though he still needs to cover a lot of tracks, during the proceedings of Apr 29 he made the most telling remark of all. Referring to blatant interference in the functioning of the courts he said: “that though everyone knows the truth yet no one was ready to speak it.”

Knowing it and not speaking the truth was the point which was central to the ailment afflicting most individuals, and thus every institution. Not all the firewalls built by Mr Justice Mansoor Ali Shah will succeed in insulating individuals who are basically bereft of the most basic firewall of all, which is personal integrity. And none can lay a stronger claim to lack of integrity than Qazi Faez Isa himself.

It is therefore essential to separate the wheat from the chaff, so that those among the judges who can still be accused of harbouring errant germs of integrity, may be innoculated against the infection of mendacity, and be separated and preserved. For this they need to be given a test. They should all be collected, sat down like good little boys behind desks, and given their sheets of paper.

They must be asked to answer just one question, and do so with a simple “Yes” or “No”.

The question they should answer is: ” Do you agree with Faez Isa’s decision to deprive PTI of its election symbol?”

The solution to the problems of the judiciary does not lie in the firewall which Shah Sahib proposes to build. The effort should begin with identifying and preserving the foundational building blocks with which that wall shall be built. And they are the judges who can boast of integrity. And the question I have proposed is the simplest possible question, the answers to which will identify them.

Our High Command, ably led by Generals Qamar Bajwa and Asim Munir have pushed the state as near the abyss as was possible for two treacherous individuals to push. In this effort they were fully supported by the judiciary, either because of its pusillanimity or its outright villainy. But with the Judges having stood up, so has hope. All that Justice Shah needs to do for starters is to keep these Judges united in their stand. Thought fully through, this becomes a stand for Pakistan. If they keep standing, they will soon see the Generals fleeing for the exits. Generals may have learned to do many things, but over the years they have surrendered moral courage, and have forgotten how to cope with the force of a flat out NO for an answer.

And if the Judges want to learn how to say “absolutely not”, they should just cast one look at Imran Khan. No doubt looking towards him will shame them, but while experiencing this shame, they might also learn how to stand up for their country. And this will do a lot to them, and also to the country they abandoned a long time ago.

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