Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry, despite his good works (see my previous blog: The Chief Justice of Pakistan) managed to infuriate a large group of powerful people.
In December 2005 the CJ took a suo moto action on the illegal abduction of scores of Pakistani citizens. Many of the detentions were related to the anti-Musharraf insurgency in Balochistan, where a secret agency was accused of abducting hundreds of youths.
Previously relatives of the missing people would file writs of habeas corpus in the courts. The judges would then formally request the Interior Ministry for information. Characteristically, the ministry would reply that the secret agencies had no clue as to the person's whereabouts, and the matter would end there.
The Chief Justice changed all this by diligently following up these cases and compelling the authorities to trace the missing citizens. As a result, many missing people suddenly reappeared in the strangest of circumstances; many of them accusing the secret agencies of incarcerating and torturing them. The CJ then put the cat among the pigeons by ordering these agencies to appear in court in front of him.
It was perhaps the first time that the powers of these near omnipotent military agencies had been challenged in Pakistan and obviously they and their masters would not have at all been pleased.
The Bureaucracy and Government Politicians
In December 2006 the Supreme Court declared a land grab in Gwadar of 1000s of acres illegal. It ruled that the Islamabad’s handpicked Balochistan government was not at all competent to allocate quota for allotment of Gwadar lands to politicians, ministers, MNAs, MPAs, Senators, higher civil bureaucracy and provincial Judiciary without having a proper legislation.
The court also concluded that in view of the glaring illegalities in allotment of land in Gwadar all similar petitions would be given an early date of hearing upon the consent of the Chief Justice.
In another case of public interest, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of blocking bureaucratic shenanigans by citing the fundamental rights of the public enshrined in the Constitution. In this particular case the court cancelled a lucrative lease of a public park in Islamabad owned by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) which was to be converted into a mini golf club. One can imagine the distress of the bureaucrats to discover that there was such thing as ‘fundamental rights of the public’ and that it could be used against them in all their future dealings.
Shaukat Aziz and his Corpocrats
Late last year the Chief Justice cancelled the much publicized privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills which was being sold to Arif Habib and his associates. The billionaire stock market operator Habib is believed to be close acquaintance of Shaukat Aziz. The detailed judgement exposed a number of legal violations, lapses, omissions and commissions committed by the Privatisation Commission and the Cabinet Committee of Privatisation contrary to the law promulgated by the regime itself. Shaukat Aziz is believed to have been furious at this Supreme Court decision because he headed the Cabinet Committee of Privatisation which had attempted to rush through the sale of the steel mill.
Two days before his house arrest the Chief Justice had directed that the chairman of the Central Board of Revenue (CBR) and the Secretary for Finance be made respondents to a case against inflated prices of petroleum products, along with the Secretary for Petroleum, the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority chairman, the Oil Companies Advisory Committee and eight heads of the major oil companies in Pakistan.
And now to the most important part.
A few days after Musharraf’s publicly expressed his wish to allow kite flying during Basant the CJ defied him by upholding a decision to ban kite-flying because of the large number of deaths that were caused annually as a result of the razor-sharp kite flying strings.
This act of open judicial defiance, taken together with the ‘Missing Persons’ case, must have caused loud alarm bells to ring in the General’s head.
2007 is a vital year for Musharraf. He has not only to get ‘re-elected’ as President but general elections also have to be held.
Right now Musharraf probably has a Plan A, a Plan B and a fallback Plan C for the coming general elections.
Plan A- a heavily rigged election in which PML(Q) emerges as a majority party. This will undoubtedly lead to dozens of legal challenges to the Supreme Court
Plan B – a deal with Benazir Bhutto and her PPP. However to date despite ‘on and off’ negotiations such a compromise is still up in the air.
Plan C- declaring a national emergency and postponing elections for a year. This can also be challenged in the Supreme Court.
As far as his plans for ‘re-elections’ go they are just as dependent on a pliable Supreme Court.
Plan E – Get re-elected by the existing parliament. Once again this will keep the Supreme Court busy interpreting its constitutional validity.
Plan D – Getting re-elected after the general election as part of a deal with Benazir Bhutto.
Even so there will always be the sticky issue about the uniform, which has to constitutionally come off by the end of 2007.
So Musharraf will remain largely hostage to any number of decisions that can emanate from the Supreme Court. This has never really worried previous military dictators as they ensured that the judges of the constitutional court remain malleable. However this does not appear to be the case when you happen to have an activist Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
So CJ Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry simply had to go!