By Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

MinallahsAs the day of retirement of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) is approaching fast, some serious controversies are looming large — especially in the wake of a complaint filed before Supreme Judicial Council by Lahore High Court Bar Association.

It reflects sadly on his journey from an admirable icon to a controversial figure among the politically divided legal fraternity but the more serious concern is the possibility of tarnishing the image of higher judiciary in Pakistan in the eye of the common Pakistani who is totally disillusioned about rule of law and dispensation of justice in the country.

At this critical juncture, it is time for a reappraisal of the past five years.

Undoubtedly, the year 2007 will ever remain a dark patch in the judicial history of Pakistan.

On March 9, 2007, Pervez Musharraf summoned the CJP, Iftikhar Chaudhry, to the Army House and asked him to submit his resignation in the presence of five army generals that also included heads of intelligence services.

Refusal to abide by the orders of a President whose rise to power was through no legal means, led to a series of vindictive actions against the CJP, who was not only suspended from office but was also kept under house arrest and was mistreated by inferior pawns of the administration.

Such appalling treatment of a public figure representing the highest echelon of judiciary raised a severe furore that mobilised the masses to come out in the open crying out for his restoration and rising like a formidable wall in defence of prestige of Judiciary, an indispensable arm of the government.

It was perhaps the first time since 1947 that the nation stood up in complete solidarity against a despicable act committed by none other than a man in uniform and so-called guardian of the country’s honour. After all, what was the most motivating factor that led to such an uprising?

Was it the persona of the incumbent, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry or the sanctity of the Chief Justice’s office that compelled the legal fraternity, men, women and children belonging to all social classes to come out onto the roads in massive protests all over the country in general and more particularly in the Punjab.

The media also had a significant role in creating hype and gauging the popularity of the subject — every news channel was vying with each other in providing breaking news. Many members of the legal fraternity, who were even not very fond of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, laid aside their personal likes and dislikes only to render their complete support for the restitution of the office of CJP.

In Pakistan’s peculiar milieu, where people, despite “democracy”, are condemned to suffer at the hands of politicians as Legislature, powerful military-civil complex as Executive, the only source of hope remains the Judiciary that gives them a sense of security and if that is threatened then obviously their last resort would be by way of protest to safeguard their only sanctuary.

This is the reason why movements for deposed prime ministers could not restore them whereas the Chief Justice regained his lost stature within two years as on March 22, 2009. What a triumphant victory that was for the people of Pakistan and the Judiciary!

The people’s power was overwhelming. It was all due to masses of Pakistan that the periods from March 9, 2007 to July 20, 2007, from November 3, 2007 to March 16, 2009 and from March 9, 2009 to July 31, 2009 became a milestone for blocking any future military takeover.

The second restoration of the CJP on March 22, 2009 was not a triumph of an individual but a victory of democratic forces. It paved way for revival of democracy and independence of judiciary. The decision of July 31, 2009 consolidated it when a categorical finding was given against unconstitutional acts of Musharraf and action was taken against all judges who took oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) of November 3, 2007.

On reminiscing the past, one tends to think what would have been the position, had the Chief Justice tendered his resignation the day he was fully restored?

This suggestion was fiercely countered by one of the leading advocates of this country and right hand of the struggling Chief Justice and who has now visibly distanced himself from him.

Much has been written about personal controversies and desire to be in the corridors of power but the more important aspect has been ignored by all, i.e. rise and fall of State institutions which are intrinsically linked with personalities. The oft-repeated notion that institutions must rise above individuals is more a cliché than reality. History shows that institutions rise because of good individuals and not otherwise. One cannot divorce working of any institution from the quality of human fabric. The best of the institutions built over years are destroyed by even a single individual who is either incompetent or becomes arbitrary in discharging his duties. People will never respect an institution if its custodians fail to uphold its propriety and sanctity. Institutions rise and fall with their custodians as leaders and nations rise and fall together.