August 06, 2021
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Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry

Extract from my article dated July 23, 2007, titled Bruised, Not Beaten

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Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry

Pakistan's judiciary was generally subservient to the executive, whether it was under political or military leadership. Political leaders such as the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, Mrs.Benazir Bhutto and Mr.Nawaz Sharif were as arbitrary and as ruthless in imposing their will on the judiciary as Gen.Zia-ul-Haq and Gen.Musharraf were.

It goes to the credit of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that he broke from this past habit of subservience. Even last year, he had ruled against the manner in which the Executive had privatised the Pakistan Steel Mills. He followed this up by entertaining public interest petitions from the relatives of dozens of missing persons, many of whom were suspected to have been illegally arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and handed over to the US authorities on suspicion of their being terrorists.

It was his interest in the whereabouts of missing persons-----many of them allegedly in the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba--- which set the alarm bells ringing in the offices of Musharraf and the ISI. Added to this was the fear that his repeatedly demonstrated independence might come in the way of Musharraf getting himself re-elected as the President by the present National Assembly, whose term expires later this year, instead of seeking re-election after a new National Assembly has been elected. Musharraf was also afraid that the Chief Justice might debar him from giving himself another extension as the COAS when the present one expires in December next. Under Pakistan's electoral laws, a serving government servant cannot contest elections. Musharraf has repeatedly exempted himself from this provision in order to hold double charge as a serving COAS and an "elected" President, which is totally unconstitutional.

If the past subservience of the judiciary has been broken, the credit for this should entirely go to the Chief Justice. He refused to be intimidated by Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the heads of the Intelligence agencies. His defiance of Musharraf electrified the lawyer community and large sections of the public and he became an iconic figure for those demanding the restoration of democracy and the exit of Musharraf and the Army from power. Successful defiance of a dictator has an infectious effect. Not only large sections of the people, but also many members of the judiciary started defying the executive and the army. Some resigned in solidarity with the Chief Justice and some others stayed in office and expressed their defiance in other ways. It was this spread of the spirit of defiance to the serving judges of the Supreme Court, which has now resulted in the setting aside of Musharraf's orders suspending the Chief Justice and restoring him to his high office.

Musharraf found himself with no other alternative, but to accept the verdict in seeming good grace. It is a blow to his prestige, but the blow need not necessarily be fatal so long as he continues to enjoy the support of the senior officers of the Armed Forces and so long as public mobilisation against him does not have a snowballing effect. The lawyers and other opponents of Musharraf managed to mobilise large sections of the public by exploiting the iconic figure of a Chief Justice arbitrarily thrown out of his job. With the Chief Justice now back in his job, they no longer have an iconic figure out in the streets whose image they can exploit. They now have to look for issues, which they can exploit for keeping the anti-Musharraf crowds mobilised.

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