Saturday, March 29, 2008
Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry Is No Angel!
"Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was not and is not an angel" said Mr. Muneer A. Malik, the President of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, during an interview with Philip Reeves of NPR radio broadcast in the United States last year. This interview took place in 2007 after President Musharraf sacked Mr. Chaudhry and Malik launched a campaign to restore Mr. Chaudhry.
While I strongly disagree with Mr. Musharraf's decision to fire Mr. Chaudhry, I am curious to find out what Mr. Malik really thought about Mr. Chaudhry. Since Mr. Reeves did not ask the follow-up question as to what Mr. Malik meant by his "no angel" remark about Mr. Chaudhry, I can try and guess the meaning from the following snippets of publicly available information:
1. While the then Chief Justice and several other Supreme Court judges refused, Mr. Chaudhry took the oath of office as the Chief Justice under an unconstitutional "provisional constitutional order" (PCO) issued by General Musharraf after he overthrew of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Having been rewarded with the high position of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, he stood by Musharraf for a long time until issues were raised about Mr. Chaudhry's own conduct in office.
2. The chiefs of two intelligence agencies, Military and Civilian, submitted written affidavits indicating that Mr. Chaudhry maintained inappropriate contacts with the agencies and sought assistance in spying on other officials including judges. Not only that, he discussed with them important cases pending in the Supreme Court on which he was to rule.
3. Once he was restored, he continued to play politics with key questions such as the President's election and the National Reconciliation Ordnance (NRO) under which the PPP leadership including late Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari and others returned to Pakistan for the recent elections.
4. Recently, several jurists have criticized Thursday’s meeting between Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the sacked chief justice of Pakistan (CJP), and Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman, saying that such contacts are harmful to the judiciary’s independence. Former SCBA president Muhammad Akram Sheikh said that a Supreme Court bench, headed by Chaudhry, had stayed the implementation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), and therefore it did not suit him to meet Zardari. The NRO provides amnesty to public office-holders charged in corruption cases between 1986 and 1999. “The late CJP, Justice Sir Abdul Rashid, refused to meet Liaquat Ali Khan, the country’s first prime minister, after he knew about some cases of the federation pending with the Supreme Court,” Sheikh said.
Mr. Chaudhry continues to show a lack of judgment in dealing with the military, the politicians and intelligence agencies. Restoring Mr. Chaudhry to the Supreme Court would amount to condoning his bad behavior and setting a bad example for the current and future holders of this high office.
As far as other supreme court and high court judges are concerned, I support the restoration of at least some of them. However, as the new prime minister and parliament consider the question of restoring judges, some of the criteria used in this process should be their behavior before and since the time they were deposed. Did they base their decisions strictly in accordance with the constitution and the laws of the country? Have they played politics from the bench? Have they avoided even the appearance of inappropriate bias or conflicts of interest? The parliament should set up a committee to investigate and hold hearings on the question of restoration of the judges before taking any action. Pakistan can not afford to have any more political generals, nor can it afford any more political judges.