Chief Justice Awards Himself

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry Gives Himself Award

The Chief Justice will be traveling to London next month to receive the prestigious International Jurist Award 2012, media reported over the weekend. While this recognition is being lauded in the media, it seems that there might be more to the story than has been reported.

No doubt the International Jurist Award 2012 is something of a relief for the Chief Justice after being the subject of a rather unflattering report by another international organisation, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). The ICJ report questioned whether the Chief Justice had crossed the line of his constitutional role as jurist and was attempting to influence the direction of policy – the latter being the proper role of parliament, not the court.

Actually, the ICJ’s findings were similar to those of another report released late last year, this one by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Dr Mohammad Taqi describes the HCRP’s findings as follows:

The HRCP seems to be of the opinion that the superior judiciary’s overzealous use of the suo motu powers as well as entertaining petitions by the so-called interested parties— the definition of remains nebulous and ever-expanding— has taken up time and energy of the courts to the detriment of other cases. In addition to— and often at the expense of— its normal function as the court of appeal, “the country’s apex judicial forum was also functioning as an ombudsman’s office, as an administrative court, as an anti-corruption tribunal, as a supreme investigation agency, and as the sole defender of not only the constitution but also of public morality”. In a country where the backlog of cases is to the tune of millions, by seizing itself with issues cherry-picked from or by the media or thrown in its lap for political reasons, the Supreme Court has clearly spread itself too thin.

After receiving such reviews by independent international legal organisations, finally having his work praised by an international legal organisation must be quite comforting to the Chief Justice. This award has certainly pleased the media as well as certain opposition politicians who are cheer leading for the Chief Justice in his decisions against the government. After storming the Supreme Court in 1997 during his own contempt case, Nawaz Sharif has become the Chief Justice’s most loyal servant. Even PTI’s Jahangir Tareen who only a few years ago was defending Gen. Musharraf’s attacks against the Chief Justice has had a change of heart now that the Chief Justice is attacking his political rivals.

There is, of course, one difference between the international legal organisations that are criticising the Chief Justice and the one that is granting him an award next month. That difference being that the Chief Justice himself is Vice-President of the organisation giving him the award.

It’s rather ironic, one must admit, that for all his talk about the importance of an independent judiciary, the Chief Justice is going to accept an award from an organisation that he himself sits as Vice-President. I will leave it to you, dear reader, to interpret this irony for yourself. As for me, I think that until the common man can get justice, perhaps the Chief Justice should be a little more humble about whether he deserves any awards – especially when they’re handed out by his own organisation.

Distractions and Consequences

Several years ago abba told me a story about a young husband and wife who were famous for fighting so loud that it was easily heard a few houses away. This had been going on since the couple were married, and at first people would always ask if this modern young couple hate each other so much, why don’t they just divorce? Of course things are not so simple. The husband and wife had a large family that they cared for, and a divorce would be devastating to them. Both the husband and the wife played important roles in the community also – he was a doctor and she was a social worker – so the entire community would suffer if one of them left. There were surely other reasons behind their constant fighting – both were stubborn and ambitious and refused to admit when they were wrong. As I said this had been going on for many years and had become almost part of the routine of the neighborhood. People would gossip about it, but when strangers seemed shocked or puzzled, everyone would just shrug. “It’s just how they are.”

The incident that happened a few years ago, though, caused something of a surprise. One night the husband and wife started in on their usual fighting and yelling. People who lived nearby moved onto their verandas to quietly listen, laugh, and gossip among each other about who had wronged who and who was going to win the latest round. While everyone was distracted by the regular bickering, a group of dacoits went from home to home stealing valuables. The next morning, the people who lived near the husband and wife awoke to find missing their cash, jewelry, and even some computers. Everyone had become so routinely distracted by the bickering couple that they didn’t notice when thieves were walking through their own homes while they sat gossiping on their verandas!

I was reminded of this story a few days ago when the Supreme Court announced its verdict against the PM. 30 seconds of detention, apparently for something that wasn’t even included on the charge sheet. As usual, the Court left the outcome ambiguous and it promises to drag on and on for months if not years. The same day, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Quetta. Only nobody noticed because everyone was too busy talking about PM’s case.

Nobody was killed but the terrorist himself alhamdulillah, but the attack should give us great pause nonetheless. What does it mean, after all, when a suicide bomber walks into our backyard and blows himself up and it fails to attract anyone’s attention? We have become like the people in abba’s neighboring village who became so distracted by the regular drama of the bickering husband and wife that we are ignoring the thieves and killers who are wandering through our house?

There is a lot of cheap talk about ‘revolution’ lately. The revolution we need, though, is one inside ourselves. We need to stop paying attention to petty distractions and start paying attention to the thieves in the house.

Contempt in a tea cup

PM Gilani at Supreme Court

A conviction of contempt was entered against the nation’s longest serving Prime Minister in history Yousuf Raza Gilani today. In a telling manner, the Court sentenced the PM till the rising of the Court only – in other words about 30 seconds. Many believe this was an attempt by the Court to save face after finding itself backed into a corner. Whatever your opinion about the Court’s decision, though, the events of today are a further sign that a strong and mature democracy is taking firm root.

The day before the Court convened to deliver its verdict, the Prime Minister gave a statement that received surprisingly little notice, though actually it was quite meaningful.

Gilani said he had always honoured the decisions of the court and fully respects its verdicts. He said the Supreme Court has summoned him for the third time and if any other cabinet colleague wishes to accompany him, he was welcome.

And, in fact, this is exactly what he did. The Prime Minister appeared before the Court humbly and respectfully. He continued to defend his innocence in the matter, but he submitted to the Court’s verdict and has followed through on his pledge taken earlier this year not to seek a presidential pardon.

Compare this with governments of the past who, facing the wrath of the Court, either sacked the Chief Justice or organised party supporters to storm the Court, shutting down proceedings.

Today, soliders sat bored at checkpoints in Islamabad. The Court needed no defending because, despite the best efforts of some in the media to portray it differently, the government was never at war with the Court.

What comes next? Many in the media are obviously disappointed that the Prime Minister was not disqualified forthwith and is likely to continue its attempts to fan the flames between the government and the judiciary. Don’t expect it to amount to anything but bellyaches. The Prime Minister’s lawyer has stated that he intends to appeal the conviction per proper legal procedures.

Once again the government has defied the doomsday predictions and has shown a maturity and respect for rule of law that is the hallmark of democracy. Zardari haters from Imran Khan to Ansar Abbasi opened today with calls that the Court’s decision must be respected at all costs. Following today’s proceedings, it has become clear that he only dramas will be in the media, not in the courtroom.

Making a Mockery of Justice

Gen. Musharraf smoking his cigar

At the beginning of the year, Gen. Musharraf announced that he would return to Pakistan between 27-30 January. He would arrive in Karachi and would stand in general elections. When the date arrived, however, Musharraf was nowhere to be found. His aide told reporters that he was postponing his return, but insisted that “Gen Musharraf will return to Pakistan, that’s for sure”. Three months later, it looks like Gen. Musharraf’s return is not so ‘sure’ after all. The British government has refused to honour an extradition request for Musharraf to answer charges of his involvement in the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. But it’s not only the British government that seems to have Gen. Musharraf’s interests at heart.

The Harry Walker Agency represents prestigious world leaders including former American President Bill Clinton, Nobel Peace Laureate and former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan. They also represent Gen. Musharraf.

Next to a smirking photograph on the Harry Walker Agency’s website, Gen. Musharraf’s biography is an eyewash of his record as dictator. The biography notes that Pakistan came close to full-scale war with India in the late 1990s, but doesn’t mention that this nuclear scare came as the result of Gen. Musharraf’s too clever by half attempt to lead troops dressed as militants across the line of control in Kashmir – a strategic blunder salvaged only when then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif traveled first to Beijing, then to Washington asking for help in defusing the potentially catastrophic standoff between two nuclear powers.

The Harry Walker Agency’s biography of Gen. Musharraf further describes the former dictator as “a fighter against terrorism and extremism”, despite the conclusion of former CIA officer Bruce Riedel that Gen. Musharraf was a “double-dealing” ally who allowed al Qaeda to regroup in the tribal areas while fleecing the US of billions of dollars.

Most disturbingly, though, is that the Harry Walker Agency describes Gen. Musharraf as a “democratic reformer,” ignoring the fact that he seized power in 1999 through a military coup, placed Supreme Court justices under house arrest when they attempted to enforce anti-corruption laws, and suspended the Constitution in 2007 less than a year before he was deposed. Gen. Musharraf’s regime set democracy back by decades.

As dictator, Gen. Musharraf consolidated power in himself and crippled civilian institutions. The present government of Pakistan has spent the past four years passing legislation including the 18th Amendment to undo the damage done to Pakistan’s democracy through power consolidation under Musharraf’s dictatorship. Some of the damage from Gen. Musharraf’s regime, however, can never be undone.

Mark Siegel, a close personal friend and former advisor to Benazir Bhutto, was with Benazir Bhutto when she received a chilling phone call from Gen. Musharraf threatening her with dire consequences if she dared return to Pakistan to participate in the 2008 elections. As usual, Benazir Bhutto did dare.

Though Pakistan People’s Party won the elections, Benazir Bhutto was not able to celebrate. On December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated as she waved to crowds of supporters.

An independent investigation by the United Nations followed, and in 2010, the UN released a report that stopped just short of declaring Gen. Musharraf responsible for Bhutto’s assassination. Last year, an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan issued an arrest warrant for the former dictator on charges that he deliberately withheld security despite knowing of specific plans to attack Bhutto. Through his spokesman, Musharraf declared that he has “no intention of complying” with the court. The old habits of a dictator die hard.

Earlier this year, a federal Joint Investigative Team (JIT) report found that Musharraf “had prior knowledge of the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto by accused Baitullah Mehsud and withheld this vital information of a conspiracy.” The government has asked Interpol to issue a red warrant for the former dictator so that he can be brought to Pakistan to comply with the courts.

Though Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto is the highest profile Pakistani lost under Gen. Musharraf’s regime, she is certainly not the only one. During Gen. Musharraf’s dictatorship, hundreds of Pakistanis went missing and are believed to have been disappeared by state agencies under his direction. In 2009, Gen. Musharraf told Al Jazeera that perhaps the missing Pakistanis had voluntarily disappeared, a suggestion the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called “absolutely untenable,” noting that Gen. Musharraf referred to a Supreme Court investigation into the missing persons as a “constant interference in executive functions” when he suspended the Constitution for the second time in 2007.

Today, Gen. Musharraf is following the path set by his fellow dictators Augusto Pinochet and Idi Amin, living a life of luxury in so-called ‘self-imposed exile’. Based out of a multi-million dollar flat in London outfitted with silk carpets and leather furniture, the former dictator dines at five-star hotels and relaxes by playing golf and games of bridge with arms dealers.

To pay the bills, Gen. Musharraf travels the world – often to Europe and the US – giving high dollar speeches. Industry experts estimate that today the former Pakistani dictator is commanding upwards of $200,000 per appearance. In January, The News reported that the former dictator had amassed over $1 billion in Middle Eastern bank accounts.

While Gen. Musharraf hides behind British protection enjoying a life of fame, wealth and luxury made possible by the Harry Walker Agency, justice for Benazir Bhutto and the hundreds of other Pakistanis disappeared under the his regime remains missing. The UN report investigating Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s death concluded that, “it is essential that the perpetrators of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto be brought to justice.” The way some are facilitating Gen. Musharraf’s life of luxury doesn’t only deny justice, it makes a mockery of it.

Media Worker Salaries: Where’s the Court When We Need It?

empty courtroom

It’s well accepted that a free media is a foundational requirement for a functioning democracy. This was apparent to Quaid-e-Azam who spoke passionately on different occasions about the importance of independent media that will fearlessly criticise those in power. Today we have a media that fearlessly criticsing the powerful, but there are some questions about its independence. Setting aside conspiracies, there is one way that media independence is threatened that is obvious – the problem of media workers going for months without being paid their proper salaries.

President Zardari called on the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) to look into the issue of payment of salaries of the workers and journalists this week, saying that “The PPP and the present government recognize and respect the critical role of the media in promoting democracy, as an independent media was a guarantor of human rights, freedoms and liberties.”

Certainly APNS should take up this issue, but why doesn’t the Chief Justice take notice also? The issue of payment of salaries surely falls under the Fundamental Rights in the Constitution. Article 24 demands that ‘No person shall be compulsorily deprived of his property save in accordance with law’. Is it not compulsorily depriving media workers of their property when media groups do not pay them their due salaries? Allowing media workers to continue without the Court taking notice also sends the message to other companies and other industries that they can stop paying workers and there will be no consequences.

There is another effect that nonpayment of salaries has also which is that when workers are not paid their proper wages, they are forced to look elsewhere for the means to pay their bills and feed their families. This encourages corruption and bribe taking where there it wouldn’t exist if workers were paid properly. In the case of media, the taking of bribes and other payments calls into doubt the media’s independence. If the Chief Justice wants to get rid of corruption, here is an easy way to start.

The Chief Justice has made clear that he believes that corruption is a serious problem of society and that the rich and powerful must not be given a free pass. But the cases that have obsessed him are targeting individual elites, not problems that affect the lives of the common man. Taking notice of the issue of payment of salaries to media workers would give the Court the ability to fight corruption and hold the rich accountable under the rule of law. It would also protect the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution and show the people that the Court is working for the good of society and not some political agenda. Therefore, it seems like an obvious case. So where is the Court when we need it?