ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 09

Justice for judge: Pakistan’s finest hour

Across the Palk Straits By Kuldip Nayar

After a long time the judiciary in Pakistan has something to be proud about. Its past is replete with unsavoury examples of endorsing the hanging of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and sanctifying military coups under the pernicious "doctrine of necessity" which the judges themselves invented to placate the army rulers. Yet, the judiciary has also the distinction of some judges quitting rather than taking fresh oath to avow loyalty to the perpetrators of the coup.

By reinstating Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry as Chief Justice, the judiciary has shown exemplary courage to take on the military-headed executive. It is Pakistan's finest hour. Aitzaz Hasan, who argued brilliantly day after day for almost one and a half months, has hailed the judgment as a good omen. He has a point because the restoration of the judiciary's dignity may pave the way for the restoration of democracy. The judiciary from now onward would be the best protector of the constitution and the rule of law.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry leaves his official residence in Islamabad on Mondayas he heads to the Supreme Court for the first time after he was reinstated. AFP.

In more or less under similar circumstances, the judiciary in India failed. During the emergency (1975-77), the Supreme Court had a clutch of habeas corpus petitions before it. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, had detained more than a lakh of people without trial. Stalwarts like Justice P.N. Bhagwati, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud and Justice H.R. Khanna were on the bench.

Except Justice Khanna, all the judges upheld detentions without trial on the plea that the protective law which gave everyone security had to give way to the interests of the state. The judges were afraid of Mrs Gandhi's ire.

Khanna's dissenting judgment said the question was not whether there could be curtailment of personal liberty but whether the law, speaking through the authority of the courts, could be absolutely silenced and rendered mute because such a threat existed. He was superseded and his junior who sided with the government was appointed the Chief Justice of India.

There was yet another difference. Lawyers in Pakistan agitated throughout the country for five months to have Justice Chaudhry reinstated. Even serving judges were courageous enough to attend the receptions held to honour him. In India even the tallest among lawyers fell silent during the emergency. Three lawyers, V.M. Tarkunde, Soli Sorabjee and Shanti Bhusan were the only ones who defended the detainees.

I think that the lawyers of Pakistan have written a new chapter of courage and bravery. None in the future would dare to interfere in the functioning of the judiciary there. If the Army Chief-cum-President, Pervez Musharraf, could not get away with the unproven charges of misconduct and misuse of authority against the Chief Justice, none in the government would drag the judges to the court.

Normally, President Musharraf should have resigned because he framed the charges, pursued them and lost in the Supreme Court. Resignations after losing take place in a democracy, not in an authoritarian system where the law ends when the military prerogative begins. Musharraf's uniform itself may become a point of contention. From all reports emanating from Pakistan, it is clear that he wants to have another 5-year term with uniform. This is where he may find the Supreme Court in the way. When the Chief Justice was suspended one of the reasons given was his equivocal answer to the question whether the President could wear the uniform. He reportedly said that it was a debatable question.

The re-election of Musharraf as President by the present National Assembly and the state legislatures, with or without uniform, is bound to be challenged. All the assemblies conclude their tenure in November. How odd would it look if they, with a life of only a few months left, were to elect Musharraf as President for five years?

The re-election of Musharraf itself becomes a question mark when the religious parties which were instrumental in Musharraf's election last time are opposing him now. After having locked horns with the fundamentalists following the cleansing of Lal Masjid, Musharraf has little chance to get the religious parties on his side.

The Pakistan People's Party may come to his rescue if his deal with Benazir Bhutto goes through. Musharraf's call of "moderates versus extremists," has come a bit too late in the day. Not many are sure whether he is saying so because he has been driven to the wall or because he has to divert attention from the troubles he is in. People have found him on both sides, first going soft on fundamentalists to frighten civil society and then going hard on them to impress it.

Yet, some in civil society believe that he is their best bet. But the number is dwindling rapidly. Many think-tanks in America have attacked him for riding two boats at the same time. A US official said that his country may even attack Waziristan in the NWFP, to chastise al-Qaeda. Some 10 months ago, Musharraf had entered into an agreement with Waziristan rebels to let them enjoy immunity from Pakistan action on the condition that they would not attack his forces. This place has turned out to be a haven for al-Qaeda. However, the American government feels satisfied. It believes Musharraf, whatever his past, is now in. Richard Boucher, US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, has said in praise: "It is pretty much crossing a line and there is no going back." Since the Taliban have themselves abrogated the Waziristan (NWFP) ceasefire accord and killed many Pakistani soldiers it is apparent that Musharraf has earned the wrath of terrorists. The fight in Waziristan area may be fierce. Musharraf has redeployed two divisions which he had withdrawn after the ceasefire.

Hedged from practically all sides, Musharraf has no option except to make up with Benazir Bhutto who is willing to do business with the army. She has confirmed her contacts. Probably, some agreement will come through in due course. But the question after the lawyers' victory has become a bigger one.

Civil society which was cynical and inactive is now a force to reckon with. It has realised after winning the battle for the Chief Justice that it can influence events in Pakistan. It is dead set against Musharraf and may exact the price.

It is difficult to envisage that the military will altogether be out from the affairs of Pakistan as it is a big business too. But the restoration of democracy to the maximum extent is very much on the cards. I only hope that Benazir Bhutto knows the strength which civil society, including lawyers, bureaucrats and media men, has come to acquire. She cannot afford to ignore it while settling with Musharraf.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.