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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

Showing Chief Justice the Door: Time for a National Government in Pakistan

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan* - Syndicate Features

Many Pakistanis have reasons not to feel envious of the role of most of the higher judges and the apex judiciary. Both have faulted time and again and let the nation down in hours of crisis. Whenever referred to by a usurper, they have bailed him out. And instead of correct interpretation of the constitutional provisions in letter and spirit, they have gone out of the way to uphold its most outrageous violations by the military rulers. Though designated as the upholder and protector of the Constitution, they have been the most willing collaborators in its rape and the best weapon in their hands has been the cursed ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ that has been repeatedly abused to justify military coups. And quite often, they have stewed in its own juices.

When Advocate of the Supreme Court and one who is more popular as a TV anchor, Naeem Bokhari, wrote last month his famous 'open letter' addressed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftekhar Choudhry telling him that his actions do not befit that of a judge. One such action is that he pronounced one order orally in court admitting a petition while rejecting it later in his written judgment. The insinuation is that something must have passed hands that led to the reversal of his own order. Other more glaring charge is the induction of his son in police service after he had failed the qualifying examination.

Naeem’s 'open letter' is more or less an indictment of the Chief Justice. Yet, very few rushed in to give credence to Naeem's allegations. These were too horrendous to be true. Rather, the letter was interpreted as preparing the ground top show Justice Choudhry the door for stepping on some of the most powerful tails in the country including Pakistan’s perpetual man in uniform and his prime ministerial page boy.

I don’t know much about Naeem Bokhari. His first shot to fame was his ill-fated marriage with the famous singer Tahira Syed, daughter of Malika Pukhraj--one of the greatest ghazal singers ever born in the sub-continent. By virtue of this marriage he also became brother-in-law of Senator Barrister S.M. Zafar, a top lawyer, a sort of champion of human rights and also a collaborative supporter of military dictators. Even today he is member of General Musharraf’s Q-League. Naeem is a good anchor who takes pain not to annoy the person he is interviewing.

My friend, former Senator, Farhatullah Babar, PPP spokesman, has expressed his dismay over the sacking of Justice Choudhry. According to him: “Many will see the attempt to remove the second Chief Justice since the military coup of 1999 as an attempt to intimidate the judiciary and send a message to the honourable members of the court that they too can be removed on so-called charges of corruption. Such charges have regularly been used to persecute those who oppose the regime”.

I agree with the view that while the Chief Justice had not yet taken up issues relating to the GPM's (General Pervez Musharraf's) uniform, his profound interest in issues like the ‘massive disappearances’ conveyed the impression that the CJ was flexing his muscles to take up a judicial stand against human rights violations, abuse of the constitution and to deny an all-powerful president the pliability of the apex judiciary to legitimize his various arbitrary actions.

The Supreme Court’s intervention in Pakistan Steel Mills case had served as an untenable shock for the regime. That deal if it had gone through could have filled individual coffers to the brim while bankrupting the country. The SC decision had annoyed both the President and the Prime Minister more so the later since he would have been a personal beneficiary through his front man who was to have a huge piece of cake.

It is not just alleged corruption that prompted action against the CJ. Given the number of corruption charges against members of the present Cabinet and the level of corruption all around, it is difficult even for the most naive to accept that the CJ was removed for the reasons of corruption.

Some circles, however, feel that the regime became unsure of him if some body filed a case challenging GPM’s re-election as president by the present parliament. It is said the Chief Justice was sounded by the powers that be, towards helping them unseat those religiously bigoted members of Parliament who had scrambled through by equating Madaris sanads as good as being equal to that of a university graduate. Sources say the response was anything but encouraging. The apex judiciary conveyed that the case would be disposed of on merits especially when unseating a MP when elections are so close would appear as mockery of Parliament and the judiciary.

However, the more alarming was the message that it would be difficult for the apex court to give a positive judgment on GPM holding onto his uniform any more. Not only that, it was also conveyed to the right quarters that it would be difficult for the Supreme Court to justify imposition of the state of emergency and re-election of GPM as President for another five years by a parliament that has a five-year life. GPM is believed to have been briefed that such an election would be in violation of the Constitution and would be both illegal and immoral.

As in the case of Naeem Bokhari, I also do not know much about Justice Iftekhar Choudhry. And this piece is not meant to make martyr out of him for nothing. While his final indictment would come from the Supreme Judicial Council, the shabby manner the Chief Justice has been removed leaves a bad taste the same sort of bad taste that GPM must have felt when he was sacked by Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif when he was hanging in mid air. Mian Sahib no doubt had acted within his right and constitutional powers in removing a chief of staff merely a grade 21 or 22 officer. What many people had questioned then was not his right to sack the man but the method of getting rid of him in mid air rather than on the ground. Similarly, GPM may have the right to act against the Chief Justice but that does not entitle him to conspire and collude in a plot to get rid of him.

The suspension of the Chief Justice is being taken as a prelude to more events of far-reaching consequences. A few days back, federal minister Babar Ghauri said that parliament elections should be postponed by one year to enable GPM to complete his reforms. PML president Shujaat Hussain also spoke the same line later this confirming the suspicion that the elections could be put off. His talk of 'upheaval in the region' has let the cat out of the bag and let it known in so many words that 'some hidden hands' would create a situation within and outside Pakistan that would leave GPM with no choice but to impose state of emergency, put off elections indefinitely and rule merrily thereafter. After all GPM minces no words in putting it straight that he is not going anywhere, he has no exit strategy and that he would continue to rule since he has to see the fruition of his so-called socio-economic reforms and enlightened moderation.

This assertion reminds me of a similar statement General Ziaul Haq made a few months before his death in a plane crash. In an interview he said he would die with his boots on. And indeed that he did just three months later. Being past masters in spinning conspiracy theories, it is believed that since Zia had outlived his utility, his mentors got him bumped off. Strangely enough, similar cords are being touched by the master players now. Rapid deterioration of relations, disenchantment and open expression of annoyance from Washington are a manifestation of an inevitable change. Erosion of his efficacy as a crusader and the growing conviction that he is not the solution but a major part of the problem of terrorism is slowly shaking them out of their pro-GPM mindset. The silver lining is that the Democrats want to American assistance to Pakistan to strengthening of democracy and holding of free and transparent elections.

Externally believe it or not Pakistan today has come to be the most fenced country in the world. Indians started it first on the Line of Control in Kashmir, Pakistan followed it up to fence some of its borders along with Afghanistan and now Iran is securing by concrete fence its vulnerable parts of border along with Pakistan’s since lately Teheran has acquired conclusive evidence of Pakistani terrorism into Iranian Balochistan.

Notwithstanding some words of American consolation now and then Pakistan today is reaping a whirlwind of the failures in its foreign policy. By not inviting Iran, Libya and Syria at the recent OIC Foreign Minister’s conference as part of GPM’s initiative for peace in Middle East, it generated enormous misapprehensions about itself and the questionable role Islamabad wants to play in the new 'Great Game' in the region. Had Pakistan not committed the initial blunder, General Musharraf would not have been required to offer his lengthy telephonic clarifications to Iran to allay its fears.

Whether he convinced the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or not, sources say suspicions have gone much too deep and it will require gigantic diplomatic effort to remove Iran’s reservations about the shady meeting of foreign ministers of seven Muslim countries and the OIC secretary-general in Islamabad on Feb 25. It may be recalled the Iranian president had said at a press conference in Riyadh that all countries in the Gulf region viewed such a hobnobbing as a matter of concern. Islamabad shall have to do something more than merely talk to dispel Iran’s apprehension that to please Washington it was trying to create a coalition of Muslim countries to side with Washington in case it attacks Iran.

Situation being grim as that, the best exit route out of the uncertainty is Musharraf handing over power to a government of national consensus to conduct free and transparent polls and lifting of restrictions on the participation of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in the election. The dynamics of election process can unleash extra-ordinary power and energy to galvanize the Pakistani people into a nation to save the country.

* Wajid Shamsul Hasan, author is a former Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK.

- Syndicate Features -

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