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Dusting The Cupboard

When Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry (CJP) launched his judicial activism soon after he took over as CJP, he could have never dreamed that this activism, with himself as a symbol of that activism, would one day catch the imagination of the streets of the country.  Credit for his growing momentum must be given to the bunch of incompetent Presidential advisers who have outdone each other in creating the problems and then stoking them by repeated blunders. In fact they have managed an impossible feat, combining the lawyers community all over the country with the media in an anti-Musharraf front, and now because of their repeated faux pas, mobilizing the ultimate support, from the man in the street. The CJP has now become the focal point for the aspirations and the frustrations of a vast majority of the populace, diverse individuals and groups with vastly differing reasons have joined the campaign to oust the present government. The human sacrifice of Mohammad Ali Durrani to the mob rampaging will not do, this ultimate in sycophancy is not a good enough political morsel.  While for some it is only a personal vendetta against Pervez Musharraf, the intelligentsia and masses have greater ambitions, they want a fulfillment of promises of the freedoms envisaged by our founding fathers on the birth of Pakistan.

While the Reference has still to run its course most people have taken issue with the manner and mode of it’s filling, as well as the conduct of those who inter-acted with the CJP during that period.  The verdict of the Supreme Court (SC), and thereafter perhaps the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) notwithstanding, Pakistan’s interests will not be served by limiting accountability to this recent incident, one must not forget the pressures Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was put to as well as the bugging of the SC   during   the  last  Ms  Benazir  regime (1994-1996).  The mob attack on the SC in 1997 during Mian Nawaz Sharif’s regime, and the manner of the ousting of Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah should also be taken into account.

Writing about Ms Benazir’s regime and her confrontation with Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah in 1996, Dr Hamid Hussain reconverted  in his recent article “Judicial Jitters in Pakistan”, “In the judge’s case, the Supreme Court had ruled that senior-most judge should be considered for appointment if there is no valid negative element against him.  The Government decided to beat the Chief Justice with his own stick and now filed a review petition asking the court whether the rule of seniority applied to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (referring to Shah’s elevation against the rule of seniority). Counsel for federation raised objection to Shah heading the bench to decide about his own appointment.  Shah refused the request and continued to preside over the bench and the federal government withdrew the petition. The Government also started to harass the Chief Justice and his family.  Several incidents such as snatching of one of the car used by the Chief Justice at gun point and arrest of an armed intruder from his residence (police claimed that the man was mentally disturbed) raised suspicion about harassment.  His son-in-law and other relatives were sacked from their jobs and the police harassed them,” unquote.

My own news analysis “The Ugly Face of Fascism“ appearing on Saturday Nov 29, 1997, about the shameful SC incident of Friday Nov 28, 1997 said, to quote, “Nobody of sane mind will condone such as happened in the SC on Friday. Any courtroom in any civilized society must be treated with dignity, honour and respect, it is neutral ground whose decorum must be maintained. We can never allow street power to coerce the norms of justice, allowing street power into the vicinity of the courtroom spells  doom  for  any   civilized  society. Judges are human beings and as such will react as all human beings to intimidation, whether it comes in sophisticated form or in crude fashion. While protest is an acceptable part of the political process, entering Court premises in violent fashion in an uncontrolled manner is almost unheard of and violates the sanctity of the Court. What we are talking about is not a normal courtroom but of the SC itself which is the paramount place of justice in the country.

The incident on Friday smacks of Fascism, closely resembling the outrages through which courts of law and judges were subjugated by Hitler in the early 30s. Is this the future for our children, that we should influence the course of justice by forcible means of mob force? If we cannot differentiate between the rough justice delivered by a mob or vigilantes and that flowing from logic and norms of society descended from a constitution, then we are doomed. We decry martial law because it envisages swift, abridged justice that does not give enough right and time for defence to the accused as available in normal courts, yet what is the force that drove this mob to break into the very symbol of justice in Pakistan and try to impose their collective will on the SC? One is ashamed that elements in the PML stooped so low as to use such bully-boy tactics. In the history of Pakistan this must be one of our blackest days, a day of infamy and regret. Forty minutes or so after the Courts went into Session, busloads of Muslim Students Federation (MSF) activists easily came past the police cordon and upto the main SC gate. The protesters then went over the main gate without interference from the police (shades of May 12, 2007) and tried to break open the main SC door which was opened to avoid it being broken. They then reached the Main Courtroom where the case was being heard and proceeded to create noise there, including “Luddi” and “Bhangra” dances, all of it has been captured on video by CCTV. On being told of the threat, the Court hurriedly adjourned. The country has been degraded by this shameful act. Even I must take the blame, being in the forefront of believing in Mian Nawaz Sharif’s promise”, unquote. Mian Sahib must really be believing that memories are that short!

Will the promises that the present movement has brought up be fulfilled by a return to the bad old days when we were almost bankrupt economically and politically? Or can we use the opportunity to have a general cleansing as is going on now in Bangladesh? Regretfully instead of being contrite the perpetrators of the outrages (against the SC) insult our intelligence by glossing over well documented facts. It is quite possible that the same rulers and the same political parties would “democratically” become the rulers again, and the SC subjected to similar excesses in the future. Using the present crisis as a smokescreen, why should our political parties and their leaders escape accountability with respect to what they did to the than CJP and our primary Court when they were in power?

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