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Pakistan braces for judicial war

world Updated: Apr 28, 2010 01:27 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and his government are now getting ready for one last battle — possibly the toughest one yet — in which they will take on the judiciary which has questioned parts of the 18th Amendment Act.

The bill was passed into law last week amidst much fanfare and with the endorsement of all the major political parties of the country.

The Supreme Court has formed a larger bench to hear petitions against the 18 Amendment Act, particularly objections raised against Clause 175-A which deals with the appointment of judges to the superior courts.

Petitioners, which include the son of former military strongman General Zia ul Haq, have asked that the supreme court strike down the 18th amendment "as it is against the constitution."

The line being taken by the petitioners is that the 18th Amendment Act changes some very basic concepts of the constitution which it is not empowered to do.

Ijazul Haq argues that "it is not the mandate of the present parliament to alter the constitution as this is the job of a constituent assembly."

Another petitioner — Akram Shaikh pleaded that the procedure proposed in the 18th Amendment for appointment of judges to the superior judiciary "is the fourth attack on the judiciary and must be checked."

He prayed to the court to "define the the paremeters according to which the parliament can make laws."

Amongst the legal community, there is heated debate over whether the Supreme Court can strike down an act of parliament.

On one side is the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Qazi Anwar, who says that no changes can be made against the spirit of the constitution.

On the other side is Aitezaz Ahsan, former lawyer for Chief Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar who says that the Supreme Court lacks the jurisdiction to strike down constitutional amendments.

Ruling party politicians insist that the government will fight a legal battle with the judiciary and if all else fails, "will take the case to the people." A possible political referendum is being hinted.

In all this, there are fears that the government will enter into another protracted political crisis — which it can ill afford at this point.

The question in this is also whether the main opposition party — the PML-N, would go along with the government.

So far, the statements being issued by PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif indicate that while the party is not in favour of a confrontation, if required it will stand for the supremacy of parliament. This has given the Zardari government comfort for the long term.