CHIEF JUSTICE IFTIKHAR MUHAMMAD CHAUDHRY
Extract from my article dated July 22,2007, titled " PAKISTAN-Musharraf Bruised But Not Beaten" at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers24/paper2310.html
Pakistan's judiciary was generally subservient to the executive, whether it was under political or military leadership. Political leaders suchas the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, Mrs.Benazir Bhutto and Mr.Nawaz Sharif were as arbitrary and as ruthless in imposing their will on thejudiciary 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 hadruled against the manner in which the Executive had privatised the Pakistan Steel Mills. He followed this up by entertaining public interestpetitions from the relatives of dozens of missing persons, many of whom were suspected to have been illegally arrested by theInter-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 demonstratedindependence might come in the way of Musharraf getting himself re-elected as the President by the present National Assembly, whoseterm expires later this year, instead of seeking re-election after a new National Assembly has been elected. Musharraf was also afraid thatthe 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 fromthis 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 beintimidated by Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the heads of the Intelligence agencies. His defiance of Musharraf electrified thelawyer community and large sections of the public and he became an iconic figure for those demanding the restoration of democracy andthe exit of Musharraf and the Army from power. Successful defiance of a dictator has an infectious effect. Not only large sections of thepeople, but also many members of the judiciary started defying the executive and the army. Some resigned in solidarity with the ChiefJustice and some others stayed in office and expressed their defiance in other ways. It was this spread of the spirit of defiance to theserving judges of the Supreme Court, which has now resulted in the setting aside of Musharraf's orders suspending the Chief Justice andrestoring 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 blowneed 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 publicmobilisation against him does not have a snowballing effect. The lawyers and other opponents of Musharraf managed to mobilise largesections 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 hisjob, 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 canexploit for keeping the anti-Musharraf crowds mobilised.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail:email@example.com)