Mian Saqib Nisar has finally retired from his post as chief justice of Pakistan, and Asif Saeed Khosa has been sworn in as his successor.
By not only aligning with the invisible forces for the purpose of political engineering but also interfering with the federal and provincial governments, Nisar set a new record for judicial activism.
Nisar took the oath of office as chief justice on December 31, 2016, and his tenure was marred by selective accountability and his tendency to insult highly educated government officials and other important figures to satisfy his ego. He insulted doctors and university chancellors and vice chancellors and forced them to resign. During his tenure, he focused only on holding former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his Pakstan Muslim League-Nawaz accountable.
He also heard cases against the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party and interfered in the affairs of the PPP government in Sindh; however, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was given a free hand and it looked as if the courts were used to give clean chits to Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party members. Nisar was media savvy and perhaps he was suffering from an attention-seeking disorder. That would explain why he interacted with the media so frequently, often visiting hospitals and other government institutions in order to remain in the headlines.
His Diamer-Bhasha Dam campaign also proved to be just a failed stunt as only 9 billion rupees were collected from the masses. He made some good decisions, such as giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote, issuing identity cards to transgender people, prohibiting private schools from charging exorbitant fees, and acquitting alleged blasphemer Asia Bibi. However, his good decisions were tainted by his undue involvement in politics.
Nisar did everything that a populist and attention-seeking politician does, but he was not able to implement any noticeable reforms in his own judicial system
Nisar did everything that a populist and attention-seeking politician does, but he was not able to implement any noticeable reforms in his own judicial system. During Nisar’s tenure as chief justice, almost 8,000 cases were added to the litigations pending in the apex court. The record shows that there were more than 42,000 cases pending before the Supreme court of Pakistan in November 2018, with an increase of 2,125 cases over a one-year period. The number of cases pending in the lower judiciary is even higher and it takes years to get a verdict or relief from the lower courts in Pakistan. Yet the superior judiciary in the last 18 months only focused on the country’s political developments and only took up cases that were politically motivated.
Nisar has tainted the already not very bright history of Pakistan with his toxic legacy. Because of Nisar’s tenure, characterized by a selective justice approach, the judiciary has become politicized. PTI supporters like it because it has given them some relief by knocking their main opponent, former PM Sharif, out of politics by disqualifying him, but it has undermined the credibility of the judiciary in the eyes of PML-N and PPP supporters, as well as civil society.
It has been assumed that Nisar toed the establishment line and provided his shoulder to help dislodge Sharif and his party by disqualifying him and important members of his party from participating in politics. During the election campaign, Nisar commented on the PML-N government and his decision to disqualify members of the PML-N on charges of contempt of court. He showed that he clearly favored the PTI and the masters of the political chessboard.
Eventually, Sharif lost in Punjab and a strong anti-judiciary narrative has since been built. It will take the judiciary decades to clean the stains that have been left by Nisar’s legacy. A judiciary that already has a history of always aligning with the powerful military establishment and validating unconstitutional moves like the imposition of martial laws cannot afford to actively be involved in political and judicial activism.
Nisar will perhaps be remembered along with Justice Muhammad Munir (who opened the door for martial laws in Pakistan) as a man who weakened Pakistan’s democracy by aligning with the invisible forces and targeting parties and governments that were not liked by the establishment.
From Justice Munir to Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar and from Justice Iftikhar Chaudry to Justice Saqib Nisar, everyone has intervened in politics and given their shoulders to the invisible forces to support their efforts to undermine their opponents. Nisar removed many respected chancellors with a stroke of his pen in a single hearing and his controversial decision to remove Sharif from office and then from politics altogether without any charge being proven against him has tilted the balance of power in favor of the undemocratic forces.
As the famous American author George RR Martin said, “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words, and if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.”
Nisar never had the guts to listen to criticism and hid behind the shield of contempt of court in order to discourage criticism of his controversial decisions. He should have at least shown the courage to look into the eyes of the people whom he sentenced. After all, fair judgments and right actions are never afraid of criticism, nor are they are dependent on the shield of contempt of court.
New chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa has hinted that he will not take suo moto actions frequently, which is a good sign, but he faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding the damaged image of the judiciary and erasing the toxic legacy left by his predecessor.