Friday, May 04, 2007

Punjab in the spotlight

The support for the Chief Justice of Pakistan, in one branch of the legal fraternity, is overwhelmingly apparent. The ‘Black Coats’ – bless them - have managed to shake this military regime to its blundering core.

Once the entire community of lawyers came out in the streets to protest against Musharraf’s brutal assault on the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the spotlight shifted onto the other branch of legal fraternity - the judiciary.

During Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s visit to the Sukkur and Hyderabad Bar associations 17 judges of the Sindh High Court came to hear him, in so doing they openly expressed their solidarity with the Chief Justice.

Similarly when the Chief Justice of Pakistan addressed the Peshawar Bar association fifteen judges - and many retired judges - of the NWFP High Court openly displayed their support for the regime-besieged head of Pakistan’s judiciary by warmly welcoming him to their city.

With the senior judiciary of Sindh and NWFP having manifestly discharged their duties, the focus has now shifted to their brethren of the Punjab High Court. Especially so, as tomorrow, 5 May, is day the Chief Justice is scheduled to visit Lahore.

Here is what two columnists (both from the Punjab) had to say on this subject today:

In a rousingly titled op-ed Stand up and be counted! Dr Ijaz Ahsan writes:

In the past judges from Punjab provided the doctrine of necessity. They went so far as to allow a military ruler to amend the Constitution, a power he had not even asked for. Even during the present crisis, Punjab has been the only province where a civil judge was suspended for listening to the CJ's speech at a bar association.

…It is said that over the millennia, due to Punjab being repeatedly over-run by invaders on the way to Delhi, the Punjabis developed the habit of submitting to their conquerors as a means of survival, and that with the passage of time this behaviour became ingrained in their psyche. Be that as it may, this is an occasion where Punjab can prove its critics wrong.

… Such an opportunity does not come every day. If we miss the bus, the judiciary will always be subservient to the executive, paving the way for perpetual autocratic rule making us another Burma, and we the Punjabis will be the only ones to be blamed. So let the Punjab judges stand up and be counted!

I have always felt that our top people in every profession are willing to enjoy all the privileges, the perks and the prestige of their high offices, yet when a situation arises where they are called upon to take a stand, they run away. The Chief Justice has broken with this tradition and has taken a stand. All the judges from Punjab should stand with the Chief Justice and with their brethren from the other provinces.

I am confident that a large number of people including lawyers, judges of lower courts, and ordinary citizens will try to convince the members of Punjab's senior judiciary to do their bit in an effort to restore the dignity and independence of the judiciary. At the same time, every man, woman and child should turn out to receive the CJ. Let it not be said: Yeh naadan gir gae sajde main jab waqte qayam aya.

And in Dawn Ayaz Amir uses the occasion to have a go at - what he trenchantly calls - the ‘bootlicking’ Punjabi elite. Here are some excerpts from ‘Thy turn, beloved Punjab’:

“Puts Punjab in a spot, doesn’t it? If their Punjabi lordships, choosing discretion over valour, keep away from the Chief Justice’s address to the Lahore Bar on May 5, they risk inviting national censure, with people accusing Punjab of being Punjab. If they show up, as they should and as their brethren in Sindh and the Frontier already have, they risk courting the displeasure of their chief justice, Chaudhry Iftikhar Hussain, who is said to be not on good terms with the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

Iftikhar Hussain’s brother, Shahbaz Hussain, is a federal minister (for social welfare). His nephew, Farrukh Altaf, is District Nazim, Jhelum. We know what nazims are to this dispensation: its foremost bodyguards. For these and other reasons, lawyers representing the Chief Justice in the Supreme Judicial Council – which is hearing the reference against him – have accused the junior Iftikhar of bias, contending that he shouldn’t therefore sit in the Council.

All eyes are on their Punjab lordships. What will it be, the call of conscience or the triumph of expediency?

We should be aware of the deadweight of Punjabi tradition, bootlicking being a constant of Punjab’s history and politics. The Q League is the name not of a party but a phenomenon.

Whenever a military saviour, and we have had many, rides into the political arena, there is always s a Q League ready at hand to welcome him, comprising elements from the Punjab squirearchy and now even the urban elite.

It doesn’t matter who the saviour is. He only has to be in command for Punjab’s comic artists to perform around him.

Woe to the saviour, however, whose foot slips or in whose hands the reins of power slacken for on the entire planet there is scarcely anything as quick-changing as the Punjabi elite. It worships the rising not the setting sun.


…Times have changed. Once upon a time the best darbaris (courtiers) were from Lucknow, Bhopal, Hyderabad Deccan, and Delhi. The banner is now in Punjab’s hands.

Or rather in the hands of the Punjabi elite, because the people of Punjab sway to a different beat."

Your Blogger could not agree more. Sadly, it has always been the Punjab elite that has propped up every benighted dictatorship that has wrecked this country.

_________________________________________

Historical reality tells us that during the anti-Ayub unrest of the 60s and the anti-Bhutto riots of the 70s, large numbers of protesters were shot in Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta and it made little difference to the occupiers in Islamabad. It was only when the protest movements reached the streets and byways of Lahore and Rawalpindi did proper panic set in.

Amusingly, after detaining and physically manhandling Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry last month, the authorities have announced a sudden ‘concern’ for his welfare and requested him not to travel by road to Lahore to attend the Bar association function.

The thought of hordes of people lining the Grand Trunk Road showering petals on the Chief Justice has obviously frightened the PML(Q) out of its wits.

As Reuters reported today:

The authorities on Friday showed their fear of the support suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is drawing, by detaining opposition activists across Punjab province ahead of his visit to the provincial capital.

Lahore police said they had taken nearly 400 people into custody as a “preventive measure”.

Earlier on Friday, the government urged Chaudhry to travel by air rather than road because of “credible threats” of Islamist bomb attacks in the wake of an April 28 suicide attack on Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao.

…“In view of the hazardous security situation in the country, we have requested the chief justice to travel by air instead of road,” Syed Kamal Shah, permanent secretary at the Interior Ministry, told Reuters.

The judge’s lawyers, however, suspected the warning was an attempt to disrupt Chaudhry’s campaign to assert the independence of the judiciary in the fight against misconduct charges levelled by Musharraf two months ago.

“The chief justice will be going by road along with a large number of lawyers,” said Aitzaz Ahsan, Chaudhry’s top lawyer.

“It is the government’s duty to take adequate measures for the security of the chief justice ... the government is nervous and itself has designs to disturb the journey but we will not change our schedule.”

Chaudhry has already travelled to several cities and addressed bar councils since his suspension, but observers attach great importance to the Lahore visit.

The city is Pakistan’s political nerve centre, and a substantial turnout there in support of Chaudhry could give fresh impetus to the anti-Musharraf drive, observers say.

Meanwhile according to the Daily Times the leaders of PML (Q) plan a counter pro-Musharraf rally in Lahore on the very same day:

Under pressure to counter the May 5 reception planned by lawyers and opposition parties for Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Punjab government has decided to take out its own rally on the day.

… Sources said that apart from routine arrests of opposition workers, high alert would be declared in the city and on GT Road, which is the route of the chief justice’s convoy. They said reserve police had been ordered in the city and intelligence and other agencies had been told to be on duty on May 5. Sources said Elahi had also ordered for the chief justice’s security in the city and on GT Road.

A senior government official said they were trying to create rifts between the lawyers so that their planned reception would fizzle out. “We have it tough at the moment. The government also managed to get a few lawyers together to protest the LHCBA’s invitation to the CJ. But that didn’t go too well either,” another official said.




4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Punjab’s curse of appeasement
Legal eye

By Babar Sattar

Fifteen justices of the Sindh High Court congregated in Sukkur recently to hear Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary speak and to express solidarity with the cause of judicial independence. In Peshawar the Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court along with nine other serving justices and many retired justices welcomed the CJ. The unanimous position taken by the superior judiciary of Sindh and NWFP is an extremely powerful statement in favour of the principle of judicial independence and against Musharraf regime’s treatment of the CJ, for it reflects the shared agony of the vanguards of our constitution on how the elementary principles of our fundamental law are being mutilated.

The CJ is now scheduled to visit Lahore and the position taken by justices of the Lahore High Court will determine whether the legal fraternity’s movement for judicial independence is unanimous countrywide or if Punjab continues to suffer the curse of appeasement. The response of the Punjabi judiciary generates anxiety for various reasons. As a matter of historical record members of the Punjabi judiciary are blamed for complicity in authoring the doctrine of necessity, for exhibiting the disturbing propensity to appease rulers of the day and succumbing to the diktat of expediency. For example after General Musharraf’s coup of 1999 four judges from Sindh refused to swear oath to the Provisional Constitutional Order, but the judges from Punjab -- except the lone Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Khan -- had no qualms about legitimising the military dictatorship.

Further, it is now public knowledge that the chief justice of Lahore High Court is at daggers drawn with the chief justice of Pakistan. Consequently a civil judge who dared to attend the CJ’s talk at the Lahore High Court Rawalpindi bench building was suspended for her audacity to take a public position in support of the CJ. Further, judges in Punjab are under instruction from the Lahore High Court to dismiss cases for non-prosecution on the days when lawyers are on strike. Thus, critics might say that the Lahore High Court under the stewardship of its chief has not taken a non-partisan position vis-à-vis the judicial crisis, which makes one wonder how his influence will bear upon the posturing of Lahore High Court justices during the CJ’s visit to Lahore.

The argument that members of the superior judiciary should not take a position on the issue of suspension of the chief justice is disingenuous. The weaker counter-argument is that all institutions show solidarity toward their members: generals protect their officers and bureaucrats support their colleagues, so why should judges remain neutral in face of an intrigue to throw out their head? The stronger argument however is that the fight of the legal fraternity and the civil society is not just for the rights of one individual. Whether or not one likes the CJ is immaterial at the moment. All humans are imperfect and even when they wear judicial robes their judgment is not infallible.

Despite the absence of charges of financial or judicial impropriety against the CJ, it is easy to misdirect the focus of the debate by concentrating on his idiosyncrasies or limitations as an individual. The bottom line is that acquiescing in the treatment meted out to the CJ by the Musharraf regime will do serious harm to the rule of law and independence of judiciary in Pakistan. It is not that the CJ is indispensable as an individual, but upholding the values and principles that he stands for today is absolutely essential for the health of our nation and polity and that is why the stakes of citizens in this judicial crisis are so high. There is no room for silence or apathy in this debate, for indifference or neutrality amounts to support for the Musharraf regime.

Propriety demands that justices of the Lahore High Court receive the CJ when he visits Lahore, for he is still the chief justice of Pakistan. By not extending him the courtesy due to a chief justice they will only reinforce the cynical view that once the powers-that-be pronounce the fate of an individual, it is carved in stone and cannot be undone -- a view that leaves no room for the rule of law and reduces constitutionalism to a mere formality.

More importantly it is inexcusable silence that explains Pakistan’s lop-sided institutional development in a historical context. The civil-military imbalance -- the bane of our democracy -- is the product of the military’s encroachment over the authority and jurisdiction of civilian institutions. However, such encroachment could not have been so comprehensive and effective had these institutions, including the judiciary, not voluntarily surrendered their will to exercise legitimate authority over their constitutional jurisdiction. It is thus crucial for the judiciary at this crucial juncture to stand up and fight to uphold the constitution and for its exclusive right to interpret the constitution independently.

The question that many raise is this: why is Punjab always more likely to falter when there is need to take a stand on matters of principle? Is expediency a compulsion of power and given that Punjab has a larger share of such power necessarily makes the politics of Punjabis self-serving? Is there something about our sociological make-up that explains our historical aversion to resist tyranny and bow to the whims of force? But then in the present context how do you explain the unflinching position of Punjabi lawyers or actions of Justice Jawad Khawaja -- the only member of Pakistan’s superior judiciary to have resigned his office to protest the actions of the Musharraf regime?

We suffer from an inexplicable urge to appease those in positions of authority. What is it that the Musharraf regime can do to persecute justices who refuse to acquiesce and take silent positions to demonstrate their support for the CJ? Can the general move presidential references against all such judges to steal their robes? Why do justices, who agonise over the assault on the independence of judiciary, feel hapless against taking a position in accordance with their conscience? Did calamity befall justices of Sindh and NWFP who silently demonstrated their support for the CJ by their presence while also not violating their judicial code of conduct? Is fear of reprisal not overstated?

If a majority of the Punjabi justices decide to grace the CJ’s talk in Lahore with their presence, the support of the entire legal fraternity (the bench and the bar) to the cause of judicial independence will be complete and unequivocal. Such unanimity will send an even louder message to the Musharraf regime and the nation that the general’s transgression of constitutional authority in dealing with the CJ is beyond doubt. If despite constitutional guarantees regarding security of tenure and other protections our judges find themselves incapable of taking positions guided by their conscience and convictions, is there hope for justice in Pakistan anyway?

It is time our judges in Punjab suspend fear or considerations of favour and free themselves and the rest of us from the shackles of expediency and appeasement.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He is a Rhodes Scholar and has an LL.M from Harvard Law School. Email: sattar@post.harvard.edu

Anonymous said...

Pak Army's electoral comes from Panjab. This is theirs recruiting ground. How can they bite the hands that feed them, and vice versa.

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