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.

How the New York Times Keeps Getting Pakistan Wrong

Syed Yahya HussainyThe New York Times is an institution in journalism. Published continuously for over 160 years, the Times has won 104 Pulitzer Prizes – more than any other news organization. In 2009, one of those Pulitzer Prizes went to a team that included Pakistan correspondent Jane Perlez for their coverage of America’s deepening military and political challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With this background, how is it that The New York Times keeps getting Pakistan so wrong?

In her latest article, Many in Pakistan Fear Unrest at Home, Jane Perlez suggests that Pakistan is on the brink of takeover by Islamists, comparing the political climate today to Iran in 1979. But is this really an accurate description of Pakistan, a nation that only recently held massive pro-democracy street demonstrations, overthrew a military dictator, and elected a democratic government that for the first time includes all ethnic groups and major political factions at either the state or federal level? Tunisia and Egypt may be shedding the yoke of autocracy, but Pakistan achieved this years ago.

Since 2008, of course, Pakistan has been hit hard by the global economic downturn, been ravaged by devastating floods of historic proportion, and lost thousands of citizens to attacks by terrorist groups. Despite these challenges, the democratic government has remained resilient, implementing political reforms to strengthen the democratic process and the rule of law. So why is The New York Times comparing 2011 Pakistan to 1979 Iran? It turns out the answer may lie in Ms Perlez’s sources.

Jane Perlez has quoted Mr Farrukh Saleem quite regularly over the past few years, though she introduces with different titles in different articles. In her latest article about the possibility of an Islamist putsch, Farrukh Saleem is “a risk analyst”. Last November, Ms Perlez cited him as “a political analyst” in an article about political violence in Karachi. A month earlier, Mr Saleem was “executive director for the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad”. The one constant in Mr Saleem’s CV is his affiliation with The News, an English-language newspaper that has received international attention for its virulent anti-government propaganda.

In fact, Mr Farrukh Saleem appears in a 2009 article by Jane Perlez praising opposition leader Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party. Here Saleem is referred to only as a newspaper columnist. Earlier, Farrukh Saleem is quoted by Jane Perlez saying that President Asif Zardari “has an unending desire to control all of Pakistan.”

Later that year, of course, President Zardari transferred power over the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the Prime Minister, and a few months after that signed the 18th Amendment further devolving power that had been consolidated under military dictators. For someone with an unending desire to control all of Pakistan, the president appears to be giving a surprising amount of his power away. Despite this record, Jane Perlez continues to present Farrukh Saleem as an objective “analyst”.

Then there is Ms Perlez’s other go-to source for analysis of Pakistan: Jahangir Tareen. According to Ms Perlez, Mr Tareen is “a reformist politician”. But what claim to the title of “reformist” does Mr Jahangir Tareen actually have? After all, this is the same Jahangir Tareen that served as Minister of Industries and Special Projects under the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf – a fact certainly known to Jane Perlez as she has been quoting him in her articles as such since at least 2008.

Ms Perlez quotes Jahangir Tareen blaming rich politicians for failing to address the economic needs of the people without mentioning the irony that he is both rich and a politician himself in the opposition party PML-Q. Jane Perlez also fails to mention that Jahangir Tareen’s CV includes such “reformist” tendencies as serving as a cabinet minister during the corrupt Musharraf regime that squandered foreign aid money while incubating jihadi militias. Today, Mr Tareen warns the Times reporter that Islamist forces “will sweep into power”, but Jane Perlez conveniently ignores her sources background and fails to provide her readers important context that might raise questions about his credibility.

Certainly Pakistanis are frustrated with unemployment, inflation, and ongoing attacks by Islamist militant groups. And there do exist residual effects of an institutionalization of Islamism carried out by the regime of 1980s dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and reinforced by the former boss of Ms Perlez’s friend Jahangir Tareen, Pervez Musharraf. But Pakistan’s democratically elected government has proven resilient, and by-election results since 2008 have not revealed any increased support for Islamist parties.

When the curtain is drawn on the election booth, the people of Pakistan consistently reject Jamaat-i-Islami’s candidates and policies. Jane Perlez’s article may represent the prejudices of her rather compromised (and seemingly few) regular sources, but it does not represent the aspirations of the Pakistani people. Let us not forget that fewer than six months ago, Jane Perlez predicted a military coup in Pakistan. That, too, never came to pass.

Jane Perlez’s fearmongering on Pakistan notwithstanding, the democratic system is maturing and growing stronger – a fact evidenced by the unprecedented cooperation between the opposition parties and the coalition government in defense of political stability. It is true that religious parties organize street protests with thousands of participants. But these are demonstrations of frustration, not political support. If Ms Perlez truly believes that the Pakistani people believe in “the failure of representative democracy”, perhaps she should expand her social circle beyond those who have built careers trying to derail it.

The question for The New York Times is whether or not Jane Perlez is actually providing investigative reporting on Pakistan or simply phoning her few friends for juicy quotes to pad sensationalist articles. Following her reporting over the years, Times readers would come away with two things: a close familiarity of Mr Farrukh Saleem and Mr Jahangir Tareen, and very poor understanding of Pakistan.