July 28th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Pakistan’s judiciary is influenced by the government and the military which has cast doubts on the competence, fairness, and reliability of the judicial system, according to a report issued by the State Department of the United States. Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Tuesday called the US report as “factually incorrect and misleading”, adding that the country’s courts were independent and functioning in accordance with the Constitution.
Pakistan’s judiciary is influenced by the government and other stakeholders, notes the 2021 Investment Climate Statement on Pakistan. The annual Investment Climate Statements are issued by the US State Department. “The lower judiciary is influenced by the executive branch and seen as lacking competence and fairness,” the US report states, adding the lower courts currently face a significant backlog of unresolved cases.
“Theoretically, Pakistan’s judicial system operates independently of the executive branch, However, the reality is different, as the military wields significant influence over the judicial branch. As a result, there are doubts concerning the competence, fairness, and reliability of Pakistan’s judicial system,” the report claims in the segment titled Legal System and Judicial Independence.
In its segment on corruption in the country, the US report notes that Pakistan ranked 124 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. “The organization (Transparency International) noted corruption problems persist due to the lack of accountability and enforcement of penalties, followed by the lack of merit-based promotions, and relatively low salaries,” the US report reads.
The US report states that bribes are widely believed to be given across all levels of government. “Although, higher courts are widely viewed as more credible, lower courts are often considered corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from prominent wealthy, religious, political, and military figures,” the report states, adding that the political involvement in judicial appointments increases the government’s influence over the court system.
According to the US report, the National Accountability Bureau suffers from insufficient funding and professionalism, and is viewed by Pakistan’s opposition as politically biased. “Fear of NAB prosecution has also deterred agency action on legitimate regulatory issues affecting the business sector,” the report adds.
US report incorrect and misleading: FO
Speaking in Islamabad, Foreign Office Spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said Pakistan has taken strong exception to the gratuitous and unwarranted comments made in the report on Pakistan’s judicial system. “The judiciary in Pakistan is independent and the Courts are functioning in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the country. The allegations to the contrary are firmly denied as factually incorrect and misleading,” he said.
“As a vibrant democracy, the government of Pakistan firmly believes in the separation of powers between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the state,” the Foreign Office spokesperson said.
Chaudhri said there was no question of any coercion or pressure on Pakistan’s judiciary. “The baseless assertions made in the report are contradicted by innumerable decisions by Pakistani courts at all levels that meet the highest standards of judicial independence,” he added.
He mentioned that while the statement acknowledged the progress made and reforms undertaken by Pakistan in improving its business and investment climate despite extremely difficult circumstances due to the pandemic, it “speculated on alleged shortcomings in Pakistan’s regulatory framework and based its conclusions on unverifiable sources”.
Threats to US citizens
The US report cites the presence of foreign and domestic terrorist groups within Pakistan that continue to pose some threat to US interests and citizens despite improvements to the security situation in recent years. “Terrorist groups commit occasional attacks in Pakistan, though the number of such attacks has declined steadily over the last decade,” the report reads. However, many multinational companies operating in Pakistan employ private security and risk management firms to mitigate the significant threats to their business operations.
Attacks on CPEC projects
The US report highlights that militant groups in Balochistan continue to target the military as well as Chinese and CPEC installations in the province. Abductions and kidnappings of foreigners for ransom remain a concern in the country. “While security challenges exist in Pakistan, the country has not grown increasingly politicized or insecure in the past year,” the report notes.
Implementation of labour laws weak
In its segment on Labor Policies and Practices, the report cites that the current government-mandated minimum monthly wage is quite below Rs 31, 000 that has been recommended by the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research (PILER). The International Labour Organisation has recommended a reference wage of at least Rs 25,000 per month. “Legal protections for laborers are uneven across provinces, and implementation of labor laws is weak nationwide,” the report reads.
Labour inspectorates have inadequate resources, which lead to inadequate frequency and quality of labor inspections. “Some labor courts are reportedly corrupt and biased in favor of employers,” the report adds.
According to the report, Pakistan has made significant progress since 2019 in transitioning to a market-determined exchange rate and reducing its large current account deficit, while inflation has been under 10 percent for the entire reporting period.
However, progress has been slow in areas such as broadening the tax base, reforming the taxation system, and privatising state-owned enterprises. Pakistan ranked 108 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings, a positive move upwards of 28 places from 2019. Yet, the ranking demonstrates much room for improvement remains in Pakistan’s efforts to improve its business climate.