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Editorial: Pakistan’s Weak Institutions

Deficiencies of lower courts that must be corrected by higher courts highlight the reasons for the public’s lack of trust in Pakistan’s institutions

by Editorial

File photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

The Islamabad High Court this week suspended the sentences of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi, and directed authorities to grant them bail. The judicial “relief,” however, is insufficient to secure their release, as both remain incarcerated in the iddat case, while Khan was also sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in the cipher case.

The suspension of the sentence isn’t surprising, as a unanimity of legal experts had noted the significant legal deficiencies in proceedings that led to the conviction. During proceedings, the judge had closed the right of cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses, and Khan was also denied the right to record his statement under Section 342 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. While it remains unclear if such deficiencies are enough to have the case dismissed altogether, at the least the IHC is expected to order a retrial, ensuring the current conviction does not stand.

Unfortunately, the manner in which Khan and Bibi’s trial was conducted highlights the weakness of Pakistan’s institutions, with trial courts often handing down sentences that rarely stand up in higher courts. Similar circumstances occurred with PMLN leader Nawaz Sharif, who was also incarcerated by a lower court before being released on appeal last week. Even beyond political cases, such judicial weakness are also highlighted in blasphemy cases, with lower courts convicting accused, who are then let off by higher courts over lack of evidence.

Amidst such judicial decisions, the public’s declining trust in Pakistan’s institutions is no surprise. Such situations also evoke questions of interference in judicial affairs, a view somewhat supported by a recent letter penned by six judges of the IHC, with the matter now before the Supreme Court. This trend is not easy to reverse and requires sustained corrective efforts by all arms of the state, particularly the executive and judiciary. With a weak coalition government at the center, however, it is unlikely that the political class would be able to pushback in a necessary manner. The ball, thus, is now in the judiciary’s court. How it proceeds could well shape the public’s view of its institutions as the country implements unpopular decisions required to achieve economic stability.

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