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Inside Story
How politicised is Pakistan's judiciary?
With a new confrontation brewing between the judges and the president, we examine the cost of the crisis.
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2012 09:11

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, issued a decree on Sunday to prevent legal challenges against any actions taken or orders passed by the recently ousted prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, over the past two months.

"This government was never interested in restoring the judiciary in the first instance and when it was forced to ...  it never accepted an independent judiciary .... [The] judiciary's role is very well described in the constitution and it has not trespassed those limits. What it is doing basically is not acceptable to the government simply because its principle motive is to save that criminal sitting in the president's seat."

- Raoof Hasan, the vice president of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf

Gilani was convicted of contempt of court on April 26 and dismissed last week.

The Supreme Court ordered Gilani's removal from office for refusing to reopen corruption cases against Zardari. The move was the culmination of a stand-off between the judiciary and the government.

And on Sunday, Zardari issued a decree to prevent any legal challenges to the actions taken and orders passed by Gilani in the two months between his conviction and eventual dismissal from office.

With the new decree, no one could challenge in the courts the legislative and administrative measures Gilani took in the past two months.

Some of these measures include the passing of the federal budget 2012-13, approved by the parliament, and various judicial appointments made after April 26 on the advice of Gilani.

During that period, Gilani also took decisions on the allocation of funds to all ministers and members of the parliament from Pakistan People's Party (PPP). And there were transfers, postings and promotions of officials made under executive orders.

Measures also include the protocols signed with foreign countries - Gilani visited the United Kingdom and signed various agreements with his counterpart there.

But the president's move to protect Gilani's actions is triggering a new controversy between the executive and the judiciary. A number of prominent lawyers have indicated that it will be challenged in the Supreme Court.

Zardari exercises few powers in a position that is supposed to be largely ceremonial. Under the current constitution, the president only has 'reserve' powers, subject to Supreme Court approval or veto. However, he derives his authority from his position as the joint head of the ruling PPP, with his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

From his party position, Zardari controls the government, including the appointment of the prime minister.

Zardari was forced to ditch his first choice to replace Gilani, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, a former textiles minister, after an anti-narcotics court ordered Shahabuddin's arrest over his alleged involvement in a drugs scandal.

"This whole question of immunity really is academic and was never raised before [the] Supreme Court at all by the government. They have kept it to [the] side to use as a political slogan, not as a legal defence in court. "

- Salman Raja, an advocate at the Supreme Court

The government then had to hastily elect Raja Pervez Ashraf as the new prime minister on Friday in a bid to end the crisis. But the former water and power minister is also a controversial appointment.

Pakistan is facing several challenges on multiple fronts - the economy is in near ruins and its relationship with the US is shaky as it struggles to contain a violent insurgency. And there is a crippling power shortage that has sparked riots across the country.

But all of that is overshadowed by the ongoing battle between the judiciary and the government, which shows no sign of ending.

So how politicised is the judiciary in Pakistan? What is the cost of the continuing crisis? And who pays the price?

Inside Story, with presenter Veronica Pedrosa, discusses with guests: Salman Raja, an advocate at the Supreme Court and a specialist in constitutional law; Raoof Hasan; the vice president of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Movement for Justice headed by Imran Khan; and Sumsam Bukhari, Pakistan's state minister for information.

"Any actions taken, orders passed, directions issued, advice given to president or appointments made by Yusuf Raza Gilani, shall be deemed to have been validly done. No suit, prosecution or any other legal proceedings, including a petition, shall lie in any court or forum including the Supreme Court."

The presidential decree 

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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