Amidst all the noise that surrounds the Panama Leaks, it is now becoming clear that these leaks are here to stay as a somewhat permanent feature of our political discourse and mud-slinging. Much like earlier allegations raised in the infamous Asghar Khan case, or the Memo-Gate, or those sixty million dollars parked in some Swiss account, the Panama Leaks will most likely make regular appearance in our talk-shows for some time. With each passing day, as the waters of Panama Leaks become muddier with political rhetoric and counter-accusations, it seems increasingly unlikely that the people of Pakistan will ever have complete closure from the plethora of questions raised by these complicated instruments of offshore wealth accumulation. And regardless of how (or if) these issues reach some form of eventual conclusion, politicians from all sides of the political divide will continue to hurl accusations at each other for many years to come, in an exercise that seems to have become our new political culture.

But if we step back from this edge of insanity that is Pakistani politics, there seems very little reason for this madness to persist. Even away from hyper-technical legalities of international monetary transactions and bifurcation of family assets, who in their rightful mind can justify that a politician who pays no more than a few thousand rupees in domestic taxes, can afford the lifestyle of our Prime Minister? Or, for that matter, who in their senses can claim that Zardari, through lawful means and the dint of his own hard work, has amassed the sort of wealth that can be stashed in Swiss accounts of Surrey Palaces? Who can honestly argue that Arsalan Iftikhar, a struggling doctor till some years ago, rose from rags to riches, independent of his father’s (illegal) influence during the tenure of Chief Justiceship?

And yet, every day, people throng to the defence of the Prime Minister, of Asif Zardari, and even Iftikhar Chaudhry (as apparent from his recent press-conference), without once pausing to consider how disingenuous this drama seems to dispassionate observer.

However, amidst the absurdity of the political drama, this week we saw a clairvoyant decision of the honourable Chief Justice, which deserves much accolade. The honourable Chief Justice (on behalf of the Supreme Court?) declined to form a Judicial Commission, as requested by the Prime Minister, to investigate the terms of reference that had been referred to him. Through a letter from the Registrar of the Supreme Court, addressed to the Federal Government, the honourable Chief Justice refused to form a commission, in the current circumstances, which he expected would be “a toothless Commission” serving “no useful purpose, except giving bad name to it.” Specifically, the letter from the Registrar deemed the government’s terms of reference to be so “wide and open ended that, prima facie, it may take years together for the Commission to conclude its proceedings”. As a result, the letter advised that a “list of all individuals, families, groups, companies, etc., with their total number, alongwith some relevant particulars, against whom purported inquiry proceedings are to be held” must be provided, and the Commission be empowered through “some proper legislation”, for the entire exercise to be of any use.

This opinion of the Chief Justice, communicated through the letter of the Registrar, provides tremendous insight into the workings and philosophy of the leadership at our honourable Supreme Court.

First, the one page letter impliedly expresses that the terms of reference that have been framed by the incumbent government, and referred to the honourable Chief Justice, are (for the lack of a better word…) rubbish! In the local vernacular, the government wants the Commission to chase a ‘truck ki batti’, which the honourable Court is unwilling to do. At its core, the letter from the Court seems to be imply that the government has (deliberately) issued terms of reference that expand the circumference of inquiry in such a manner that would make the task impossible to conclude, and thus shift all focus away from the responsibility of the Prime Minister and his family. And the court wants no part or responsibility for such an assignment.

Second, the letter demonstrates that the honourable Chief Justice does not want the Judicial Commission to be turned into a witch-hunting machine. If members of the honourable Court are going to take out their invaluable time and effort to partake in the resolution of political issues, the same must be done in a meaningful manner, so as to achieve definitive results. For this purpose, the task must be specific in nature, achievable in objective, and backed by a legislative mandate that is befitting the nature of the inquiry.

Third, and most importantly, for the first time in a long time, the honourable Supreme Court seems unwilling to expand its institutional turf in order to become an overarching arbiter of partisan allegations. Building upon the honourable Chief Justice’s earlier resolve (and public comment) not to take suo moto action in regards to the Panama Leaks, and the later publicly articulated discouragement of dragging the honourable Supreme Court into the mess of political mud-slinging, the honourable Chief Justice has once again resisted the seductive impulse to become ‘king-maker’ in our political diaspora. This is a welcomed and sagely departure from the tainted judicial philosophy of the Iftikhar Chaudhry years, when the court seemed eager to participate in the political drama and pick partisan sides. In fact, at most occasions, the then Chief Justice did not need a formal invitation from the government to take on the mantle of political saviour; suo moto jurisdiction became the catch-all constitutional clause for resolution of obscure issues – from wine bottles in someone’s luggage, to allegations against the prodigal son.

In the instant case, upon a formal invitation from the political parties, the incumbent Chief Justice has the opportunity to script a political history of his own choosing. To either save or guillotine the Prime Minister (and others). However, demonstrating judicial as well as political maturity, the honourable Court seems resolute in its constitutional mandate of not becoming a partisan arbiter. And for this, the honourable Chief Justice and his court deserve our collective gratitude.This is not to say that, in case the political junta comes up with definitive and ascertainable terms of reference, that the Chief Justice must still decline to interfere. If the Court, or its commission, is invited to make a determination as to conclusive legal issues, under the mandate of a legislative instrument, it must entertain such a request. But, till then, resisting the gaze of unfolding political history is the only judicious course of action.

These are tumultuous political times. But our political problems need political solutions. The nation cannot turn towards the robes, or the khakis, each time the political temperature spikes beyond comfort. We must not become the serpents that tempted Adam into eating the forbidden fruit.