Pakistani former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan waves to supporters during a public meeting in Karachi on December 25, 2011. Image Credit: AFP

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday to ordered the creation of a high powered judicial commission to investigate the so-called ‘memogate' scandal. This marks a breath of fresh air for the country's move towards consolidating civilian rule.

Though the latest outcome of the judicial process may be rejected by some who were hoping for the matter to be closed by the supreme court, others will have reason to rejoice over this outcome. The court has set down a month for the commission to complete its investigation into what has been dubbed the toughest challenge among the challenges faced by Pakistan's ruling alliance.

The memo case goes back to allegations that Pakistan's rulers may have privately approached key US officials in May 2011 to put pressure on the country's army. The allegations have already seen Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States who allegedly delivered a memo for this cause, leave his job, though the matter is not yet over.

Critics of the government note, and rightly so, that the investigators must eventually probe if indeed senior leaders like President Asif Ali Zardari ordered the country's officials to reach out to the US government. If proven, this would be a major setback to a regime which defends its record on safeguarding Pakistan's national interests. In the very extreme, depending on the country's future political temperature, a change of government may not necessarily be an unexpected outcome.

Friday's judicial ruling will now be followed by the investigation phase which will see a group of senior judges go through whatever evidence is available in search of clues. More importantly for Pakistan, the process that is likely to get under way will squarely demonstrate the steps taken by the country towards increasingly activating its civil institutions including the superior courts.

Yet for many ordinary Pakistanis, these occurrences surrounding high powered affairs mean little for their future prospects. Caught in unending crises ranging from shortages of electricity and gas to high inflation, ordinary Pakistanis have an axe to grind against the ruling order. During the tenure of the current government, Pakistan's prospects have been adversely affected, thanks to the failure of the regime to even begin modestly tackling some of the most difficult challenges.

Tragically, this is a situation which is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. Given the challenges which continue to be in sight, it is possible that the environment may deteriorate further.

Moving ahead, however, a ray of hope for Pakistan still lies on the not too distant horizon. With parliamentary elections set to take place no later than the first quarter of 2013, 2012 will likely be an election year for Pakistan. This is the time when the country's citizens have the opportunity to begin picking their choices for future political representation.

Reality check

While the top leaders seek to consolidate their hold on power, ordinary Pakistanis appear to have begun getting themselves a long overdue reality check. Ahead of the approaching election season, the decision by an increasing number of Pakistanis to turn towards alternative political choices — notably Imran Khan, the cricket star turned politician, says much about the popular mood.

Such developments of course cannot be seen in isolation from some of the wider changes that have begun gripping Pakistan, notably the growing power of the country's electronic media. As more and more Pakistanis turn towards a growing number of privately-owned TV channels to access independent news and follow-up discussions, their ability to make independent choices for the future of politics will only grow.

Going forward, Friday's Supreme Court verdict is both central to Pakistan's future but also a sideshow in some ways. It is central in demonstrating the capacity of the top court to move ahead and force a high-level probe into what has been widely described as a potential blow to Pakistan's vital security interests.

But it is also a bit of a sideshow given that the verdict on the country's future will eventually come from the streets of Pakistan where an increasing number of people are yearning to make full use of growing democratic opportunities.

It is impossible to predict the exact flow of events, a month from now when the judicial commission will complete its investigations. But irrespective of the outcome, Pakistan's democratic consolidation is a fact of life which will not change.

 

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.