When elephants fight, the grass always gets trampled. Well, almost always.

The fight between the Supreme Court and the government seems like a fight without end. The term “fight”, however, implies a moral equivalence which many purists would decry here. This may be so, but a dispassionate observer would grant such equivalence for the sake of simplicity in understanding a larger - and perhaps a bit more complicated - point.

This point revolves around the political ramifications of a government telling the court to go take a hike, and the court obsessed with getting the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to open legal proceedings against the President. These ramifications, whichever way you look at them, are horrendous. Turbulence, instability, chaos, and institutional hara-kiri, all this stares us in the face as another week promises another round of hearings and related histrionics. Questions abound: will the new Prime Minister suffer judicial decapitation? Will the government respond with a bare-knuckled street fight? Will the wheels of a delicately-poised system screech to a grinding halt?

The answers remain elusive as the macabre courtroom drama unfolds on a daily basis generating heat and light and much more. The judges fume like dragons and the government snarls back. Are we then doomed like the grass under two fighting elephants’ feet?

Not necessarily. The spinoff from this duel is a new-found focus on what the rule of law means. At stake is what the court has judged, and how and why this judgement needs to be implemented. For a moment forget the ulterior motives – if any – behind the actions of the two protagonists; forget the nuances of words, actions and intentions; forget even the heavy political overtones of the gruelling combat and bring into sharp focus the very simple, but very powerful logic of following the law down to the last letter. Suddenly, the fog clears and an unambiguous principle emerges: the law must be followed.

In many ways, this is an alien concept for us. Sure, we have laws. Lots of them. Pick up a copy of the Constitution, or pick up the Pakistan Penal Code and you will find a body of law thick and deep. Colonial and post-colonial, archaic and modern, secular and Islamic, you name it and we have it. An alien from outer space visiting Pakistan and reading our law books would think we are a society bound within a legal frame of steel.

But we are not. Yes we have a legal steel frame, but we are not bound. Not because the steel is not strong enough, or the frame not sturdy, but because we are better at writing law than following it. We are better at legislating than implementing. Hence when it comes to implementation, we take the steel frame and we bend it, twist it and break it according to our own individual power. The mighty float above the law, while the rest suffocate underneath it. For a society which spends billions of rupees on institutions that legislate law, implement law and interpret law, we have little to show in terms of concrete results.

No more, says the Supreme Court now. The law must be followed by one and all; by president and beggar alike. From their high pedestal, the honourable judges can afford to take the high moral ground. They do not have to operate deep down in the dirty trenches, like a majority of their countrymen. They do not have to face the wrath of the police, the indignity of the lower courts and the humiliation of jails. Secure in their exalted environs, they can pronounce lofty judgements against those who are equally comfortable in their plush palaces, both political and private.

Good for them. Why? Because the honourable judges of the Supreme Court may not have succeeded in cleansing the lower judiciary, or clearing the judicial backlog, or even disciplining their black-coated foot soldiers, but they have their hands on the neck of those who always made law, not followed it. The judges may have developed a tunnel vision when it comes to President Asif Zardari’s Swiss case – and they can be faulted for being selective in their dispensation of justice – but they are in the process of setting a precedent, which will go a long way in establishing the rule of law in Pakistan. Is the President being singled out for vengeance? Perhaps. Is it unfair to target him and him alone when thousands of other NRO cases remain pending? Perhaps. But should the judges go ahead regardless? Absolutely. Because what better place to start than right from the top.

Here’s why: if the judges start looking for a compromise; if they suddenly develop some flexibility in an attempt to find a middle ground; and if they decide that maintaining political stability is more important that dispensation of justice as per the dictates of law, then they will do grievous harm to the principle that all are equal in the eyes of the law. Just because the President is, well, the President and lords of the largest political party in the country; just because he controls the levers of executive and legislative power and is not afraid to use it; just because he can fight dirty and give as good as he gets, does not mean that he can have leeway where a common Pakistani cannot. Can a commoner stand before the exalted court and refuse to obey orders because he thinks the judgement is not correct? Can he defy the court’s orders with impunity and still remain a free man? If not, then neither should the President. Or the Prime Minister.

The rule of law must prevail because justice should be blind. Justice should be oblivious to complications and consequences and repercussions. Period. If the Supreme Court starts being “pragmatic”, it will cut the very branch it is perched on. But if it fights the fight in the name of the rule of law, oblivious to whether it is dealing with the President or a common man, it will strengthen the system it vows daily to protect.

Let the elephants fight. The grass can, and should, continue growing.

The writer is the host of “Tonight with Fahd” on Waqt News.

Email: fahd.husain1@gmail.com

Twitter: @fahdhusain