A struggle for Rule of Law in Pakistan
It is an unusual time for the judiciary in Pakistan. The sitting chief justice of the country will pray for justice and defend himself today on April 24.
The judicial crisis will take a new turn when the full bench of the top court of the country will hear the constitutional petition of its own boss against President Musharraf.
Under the same roof and at the same time the supreme judicial council will also discuss the fate of the top judge.
The Long March Continues
"I started my journey alone to the destination -- then people started joining me and a caravan came into being."
Justice Iftikhar Muhammad was trying to narrate the sensational story of his resistance against General Musharraf through a popular Urdu couplet.
On March 13 he decided to go to the supreme court on foot with his wife and daughter. Secret agents manhandled them in the presence of high officials of the Islamabad police and administration.
No one could imagine that the poor top judge would become the hero of the people of Pakistan by the time he reached the supreme court building to defend himself after some hours.
Trip to Peshawar
Last weekend the top judge reached Peshawar from Islamabad after a journey of nine hours. He was showered with rose petals all the way by ordinary people, political workers and lawyers at different places during his journey on April 21.
Excited people lined up all way from his official residence to the Peshawar high court building, 300 kilometers away, in scorching temperatures and under a blistering sun.
Here, the 10 brother judges of the provincial court welcomed him. The chief justice of Peshawar high court led the reception of the top judge.
Only two judges of the provincial court were absent. One, Justice Talat Qayyum is a heart patient. The other one, Justice Jahan Zeb Rahim, was a party against Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. He wrote a letter against Justice Chaudhry to President Musharraf.
Now it's clear that the provincial cadre of the judiciary have decided to support Justice Chaudhry against the all powerful general and president of country.
Justice Chaudhry spoke at length here after taking the oath of office bearers of the provincial bar association, the only representative body of the lawyers of the province.
He smartly and indirectly attacked President Musharraf and the presidential reference to avoid any legal complication.
"Although the welcome of the provincial judiciary has only moral value, it may have great impact on the psyche of the brother judges of the supreme court," a top lawyer of the capital told OhmyNews on condition of anonymity.
Sajida Chaudhry Showed the Way
Sajida Chaudhry, the most junior woman judge of the family court added new flavor in the judicial crisis on March 26 -- the day of the first public appearance of Justice Chaudhry at the Rawalpindi bar association.
I was also there, when a veiled lady sitting with the women lawyers, suddenly stood up, dramatically unveiled her face and announced: "I am Sajida Chaudhry, serving civil judge Gujar Khan, come here to show [my solidarity] with my chief justice of Pakistan."
There was thunderous applause after her announcement. The reporters barraged her with questions. Did she resign?
She calmly replied: "Why should I resign, I did nothing against the law, I came here to welcome the chief justice, and it is my duty."
"Musharraf should resign, he who is occupying the country illegally," she argued. The provincial Punjab government suspended her.
She gave a clear message to the incumbent judges of the supreme court and drew a line between the executive [civil and military] judiciary.
She was the first drop of rain in the favor of Justice Chaudhry. She showed a new way and gave a strong argument to the judges to sideline with Justice Chaudhry.
The second public appearance of the top judge was to attend an annual dinner of the Sindh bar association, Sukkur chapter on April 14.
Now history unfolded a new leaf. Two judges of the provincial court, the Sindh high court decided to follow their junior colleague Sajida Chaudhry.
Two judges of provincial Sindh high court justice Zia Pervez and Nadeem Azhar Siddiqui were also present at the airport to welcome the top judge of the country.
Pomp and Protocol
Interestingly, the presidential reference against Justice Chaudhry rotates on the allegations that he was fond of pomp and show and protocol. He used luxury vehicles that he was not entitled to.
It was a wonderful irony that after the filing of the presidential reference against him Justice Chaudhry is now enjoying unparalleled protocol and welcomes that were never accorded to anyone except the father of the Pakistani nation, Quid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
He was accorded a rosy welcome by thousands of emotionally-charged lawyers, political workers and civil society members after March 13 at every event.
At dinner speeches, cautious but confident Justice Chaudhry called for upholding the rule of law and said that the three pillars of state, executive [civil and military bureaucracy], judiciary and legislature have equal roles.
"No institution should try to overpower the other two pillars," he said, clearly hinting at the expanding role of army leadership in the statecraft of the country.
His main thrust was upon "the separation of powers and role of judiciary."
His speech was well written and energized with quotations from Western jurists, landmark verdicts and Quranic verses.
He said, being the chief justice of the country, he will not touch political issues as well as the presidential reference against him.
But he smartly targeted President Musharraf while quoting eminent jurists and even the prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him] of Islam while quoting him during the speech. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely," he pointed out the powers of president that Musharraf derives through the uniform of the powerful chief of the Pakistan army.
Brothers and Cousins
During the high profile judicial crisis, it was the beginning of a new chapter of the Pakistan judiciary when Munir A. Malik, president of the supreme court bar association invited the judges to join the struggle with their big brother for the withdrawal of the reference and the upholding of the rule of law.
It was the first time that judges were formally invited to join hands with the legal community and the chief justice.
Traditionally, the term brother is used by the judges for each other.
Ali Ahmad Kurd, vice chairman supreme court bar association coined a new but interesting theory.
A prolific speaker, Mr. Kurd pointed out that the lawyers might be the cousins of the chief justice of Pakistan. In south Asia cousins are considered to be more distant relations than brothers. But, he said, the judges are considered the real brothers of the chief justice; therefore they should join hands with their big brother in trouble. That is the strong tradition in this part of the world.
The call for joining hand with Justice Iftikhar got an immediate response from the Sindh high court judges.
The very next day, 15 judges of the provincial Sindh high court were present at the reception of chief justice at Hyderabad.
The provincial law officer, the advocate general of Sindh, also attended the function.
Leaders of the legal community demanded unconditional withdrawal of the presidential reference and release of lawyers and other people arrested while protesting against the filing of the reference.
Ali Ahmed Kurd demanded that President Musharraf disclose the names of the five generals who adopted threatening postures towards the chief justice during the meeting on March 9.
The supreme judicial council consists of five of the most senior judges including acting chief justice of Pakistan Rana Bhagwan Das.
The defense panel of Justice Chaudhry objected to three judges of the supreme judicial council.
Traditionally, whenever the presence of any judge is challenged by any party, the said judge immediately withdraws himself from the court. But in this high profile case the stakes of the judges and the government were so high that they might easily ignore the tradition.
"If all decisions were taken by the present supreme judicial council then we have lost the case, because numbers game is not in our favour," a member of the panel of defense lawyers told OhmyNews last week.
"We shall pray to the supreme court to hear all the cases and matters regarding chief justice in full court," he disclosed.
Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry filed the petition for the constitution of the full court.
Initially, the registrar on legal grounds set this petition aside but three members of the full bench accepted the petition of the chief justice of Pakistan. What an irony, the top judge of the country is seeking justice in his own court. The admin officer, his subordinate, objected to his petition on legal grounds.