The failure of Pakistan’s new government to resolve its judicial crisis has made a mockery of its legal and political systems. Pakistanis currently cannot tell who their Chief Justice is: they have two. One man, Iftekhar Choudhry, spent three years in the post before he was suspended by the Chief of Army Staff, then restored to his position through the courts and finally – six months ago – deposed by Musharraf’s cabinet. Justice Choudhry was detained for almost five months.
He is widely considered the legitimate choice by his peers. In contrast, de facto Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar was awarded his position after taking an oath that accepted Musharraf’s newly-tailored constitution, the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). While former has lost his salary and is fighting to keep his home, the later enjoys every privilege of a governmental position. Other judges who declined to take an oath under the emergency constitution lost their jobs, and the legal systems remains in upheaval.
For the public, the confusion is deepening by the day. A committee has been appointed to find a consensus that the National Assembly can accept, yet for the third time since March 9, 2008, it has been re-worked and reshuffled. The latest change, on April 30, a representative of President Musharraf; the one largely responsible for Chaudhry’s removal, was included in the said committee.
One respected judge – Justice (rtd) Fakhr Uddin Ibrahim – has already resigned in protest, also citing the lax attitude of the committee head: the federal minister of law, Farooq Naek. Justice Ibrahim is well regarded for his earlier resignation from the Supreme Court in 1979, when former dictator General Zia ul Haq introduced his own tailored constitution, the PCO.
The lackadaisical approach of the law minister can be seen in his response to his resignation. Rather than try to accommodate Ibrahim, WHO simply noted that he is free to pick a side, and to leave. Pakistan’s bar associations have shown surprise and resentment over the slapdash attempts to restore the integrity of their profession.
It’s interesting to note how the function of the new committee has changed in recent days. It was formed as part of the Murree Declaration, its mission: to restore the positions (within the month) of the judges who rebelled. However the committee has now been instructed to primarily consider the judges who did not. The reappraisal looks set to reward and retain those who sided with Musharraf while the rest of the country was rising up against the suspension of fundamental rights.
The solution currently being flirted with by the government of Mr. Yousaf Gillani, would see Choudry’s tenure ending next year rather than continuing his term until 2013, as according to the constitution.
The diversions and the dodging tactics of the newly elected government must be noted, and censured. It recalls the strategies of the old government which, asked the election commission to postpone the assemblies by-election from June, to August 18, 2008 just to divert attention of the nation from the judicial crisis. Enough damage has been done to Pakistan’s rule of law, the supremacy of its judiciary and its civilian rule. Deliberate delays and other such tactics will just strengthen the designs of the military generals, who disdain the notion of a free and independent judiciary.
The government must not delay the restoration of the deposed judges; it must follow its ‘Murree Declaration’ and resist threats from the presidency to dissolve the national assembly. Leaving time for the military to manipulate the situation will only cause political instability, and clear the way for the abuse of military power. The government should also understand that the restitution of the deposed judiciary favours future democracy and rule of law, and its own survival as a democratic body.
Senior Researcher, South Asia Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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