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"Gray Zone" Constitutionalism and the Dilemma of Judicial Independence in Pakistan
Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law (2013)
  • Anil Kalhan
Many countries exist in a “gray zone” between authoritarianism and democracy. For countries in this conceptual space — which is particularly relevant today given the halting path of change in the Arab world — scholars, judges, and rule of law activists conventionally urge an abstract notion of “judicial independence” as a prerequisite for successful democratic transition. Only recently, for example, Pakistan’s judiciary was widely lauded for its “independence” in challenging its military regime. However, judicial independence is neither an undifferentiated concept nor an end in itself. With Pakistan’s return of civilian rule, a series of clashes between Parliament and the Supreme Court raises concerns that the same judiciary celebrated for challenging the military regime — while invoking exactly the same abstract notion of “judicial independence” — might now be asserting autonomy from weak civilian institutions in a manner that undermines Pakistan’s fragile efforts to consolidate democracy and constitutionalism. In this article, I challenge the conventional view by examining these recent developments in Pakistan, which are instructive for other countries in this gray zone. Over many decades, as Pakistan has cycled between military and weak civilian rule, the military has entrenched its power, and the judiciary has played a central role in facilitating that process. The result has been an enduring institutional disequilibrium that has undermined Pakistan’s weak representative institutions. Pakistan’s current shift to civilian rule offers genuine potential for the long-term consolidation of democracy and constitutionalism. But given this persistent disequilibrium, and continued military dominance, fully realizing that potential requires an understanding of judicial independence that goes beyond abstract, unqualified notions of autonomy, and instead contemplates an appropriate balance between autonomy and constraint that enables representative institutions to strengthen their governance capacities and power to rein in the military. Pakistan’s experience also has broader significance, suggesting lessons — or at least notes of caution — about the relationship between military interests and an “independent judiciary” in other countries, such as Egypt, that risk languishing in the gray zone between authoritarianism and democracy but seek a more complete shift to democracy.
  • South Asian Studies,
  • South Asia,
  • Pakistan,
  • India,
  • Judiciary,
  • Constitutional Law,
  • Comparative Constitutional Law,
  • Democracy,
  • Judicial Independence
Publication Date
January, 2013
Citation Information
Anil Kalhan, "Gray Zone" Constitutionalism and the Dilemma of Judicial Independence in Pakistan, 46 Vand. J. Transnat'l L. 1 (2013).