Pakistan, a nation of more than 220 million, is too big to fail yet too unpredictable to ignore. With a fragile economy in a hostile neighborhood, the country was already walking a tightrope before the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government by a unified opposition backed by the army. Today, with world markets wreaking havoc on its economy and civil-military relations again under strain, Pakistan appears a hair’s breadth away from its next crisis.

Enter Umar Ata Bandial, the polite and understated Chief Justice of Pakistan—and antidote to the rising temperatures. In early April, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, led by Bandial, overturned Prime Minister Khan’s move to dissolve Parliament, declaring it “unconstitutional.” As other institutions lock horns in a battle for advantage ahead of impending elections, the court looms large as the final arbiter. Widely respected for his personal integrity, the Columbia- and Cambridge-­educated jurist bears the heavy mantle of not just delivering justice but also being seen to do so. How far he succeeds in this task may well determine the trajectory of Pakistan, and its region, for years to come.

Ahsan is an attorney and former Leader of the House in the Senate of Pakistan

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