By Nayyer Afaq
Last month on 12th December, Iftikhar Chaudhry marked the end of his eventful years as a chief justice of Pakistan.
Charles de Gaulle said, “The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” Hence, people took the charge, perform their responsibilities and leave. Then this is up to the history to judge their role and legacy.
Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, otherwise considered as a man of courage and vision by many, will sadly be remembered as a media conscious man who escaped from the charges of nepotism and misconduct by taking refuge in highly politicised lawyers’ movement and the one, who believed more in personal vendetta than emerging as an impartial custodian of justice.
If politicians are not doing well, they can be rejected in the elections or summoned in the court. If military coup is undesirable, the military ruler can be trialled. What about the chief justice of the country? Is he above the law? No, he doesn’t. Is he not accountable to anyone? Yes, he is. There is Supreme Judicial Council to investigate the charges against the judges, as clearly mentioned in the Article 209 of the constitution. On 09th March, 2007, the then President filed a reference to the SJC against Iftikhar Chaudhry on the advice of the then Prime Minister. While he didn’t resign, he also didn’t face the inquiry. He took the cover of the media and politicized lawyers’ movement and made the SJC irrelevant.
It is claimed that he stood against a military ruler and refused to resign – something that made him a hero overnight. But ironically, he himself remained the one who legitimated the same ruler.
Let’s correct the record. Nawaz Sharif’s era was corrupt and ineffective “one man rule” and his overthrown on 12th October, 1999 was justified. This is what the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled on 13th May, 2000. His Excellency Iftikhar Chaudhry was one of the judges of that 12-member court and favoured the military coup.
Not only this, he was one of the nine judges of the bench that validated the Proclamation of Emergency dated 14th October, 1999 and PCO-I as well as the referendum.
He marked his presence in the 5-member bench that validated the legal framework order issued by Musharraf.
He was also the part of 5-member bench that gave judgment in the favour of Musharraf’s uniform and the seventeenth amendment.
Iftikhar Chaudhry was the chief justice at the time when the Supreme Court allowed Musharraf to re-elect in uniform in 2007.
If the constitution of Pakistan was violated on 12th October, 1999 and if that’s the act of treason, then Iftikhar Chaudhry should also be trialled for high treason under the Article 6 (clause 2) of the constitution.
His legacy doesn’t end here.
While he over exercised his authority to take suo-moto notices under the Article 184 (3), he was more concerned about setting market price of samosa and sugar, the possessions of Atiqa Odho and issuing a contempt of court notice to PTI chief. However, the Hazara killing, the persecution of minorities, the suicide bombers, sectarian militant organisations, misuse of blasphemy laws and the atrocities of terrorism – all went unchecked.
Pakistan has lost almost 50,000 lives in terrorist attacks, but the judiciary failed to prosecute the terrorists. They kept getting acquittal from the courts and kept continuing their anti-state activities. This free service rewarded him appreciation from the miscreants.
During his term, lawyers turned into black coat hooligans. For instance, the assassin of governor Punjab was showered by roses in the premises of the court. The ATC judge who gave verdict against him got harassed by the lawyers.
Lawyers were not always violent during his term; they enjoyed the lighter side of life as well. Lahore High Court bar witnessed the dance performance on Sheila ki jawani and the lawyers partied.
This all went unnoticed.
On the other hand, he turned a blind eye to the corruption of his son. Even though he took suo moto notice, Supreme Court reversed its position at least three times and finally disposed of the case calling it a personal matter between Arsalan Iftikhar and Malik Riaz.
Iftikhar Chaudhry ruled against the security protocols of the former ministers while himself enjoying the unit of 40-50 security personnel. He asked for police escort and a bullet proof vehicle for security soon after his retirement citing that he was under threat.
He questioned the loyalty of overseas Pakistanis, while keeping mum over the judges with dual nationalities.
He kept interfering in the affairs of state, and focused less on improving the judiciary – his prime responsibility. The corrupt practices of judges and violent activism of lawyers grew by leaps and bounds. More than 1.5 million cases are still pending in the courts and there is no hope for the speedy justice.
This brief article couldn’t sum up his entire term. In retrospect, he had a golden opportunity and absolute authority to fix the bugs within the judicial system and turning it into a viable institution, but his vindictive behaviour made things worse. He had public and media support behind him, he could do this, but alas, he didn’t.