Sunday, October 19, 2008

Judiciary in Pakistan - 7

More Baggage of Mr Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif. Watch for Aitzaz Ahsan in the column below

Our great redeemers By Ardeshir Cowasjee

June 08, 2008 Sunday Jamadi-us-Sani 03, 1429

A reading of former chief justice of Pakistan, Sajjad Ali Shah’s autobiography, Law Courts in a Glass House tells an interesting tale of the present Pakistani sole superpower.

One day in late 1993 or early 1994, when Justice Shah was sitting on the Supreme Court Lahore Bench, Benazir Bhutto’s second government having just come into being, he received a message telling him that Asif Zardari wished to call on him. It was agreed this would happen the following evening. Zardari arrived at the judges’ rest house, with Aitzaz Ahsan in tow. Sajjad was told that Benazir wished to appoint him as chief justice of Pakistan. This was a surprise, for Sajjad had three judges senior to him who were in line for the chief justice’s position.

He demurred, saying it would not be proper to appoint him out of line and that he would be quite happy to be appointed chief justice of the Sindh High Court. Zardari, aided by Ahsan’s input, informed Sajjad that Abdul Hafeez Memon was being considered for that post.

Thereafter, things took their natural course, the chief justice of Pakistan retired and was replaced by the most senior judge. Sajjad is vague about timings, but he writes that he “kept receiving messages from the prime minister, mostly through Asif Zardari. I even met him a few times and our discussions would revert to the question of the appointment of the chief justice of Pakistan ... two or three meetings took place between Zardari and myself at Bakhtawar House in Islamabad. One evening over dinner, where Agha Rafiq Ahmad was also present, Zardari finally came out openly with the proposal that the prime minister was prepared to appoint me as the chief justice of Pakistan on the condition that I give my written resignation in advance which would be used if I failed to oblige her.”

Sajjad explained to Zardari that he was neither a politician nor an elected representative to whom such tactics applied — he was a judge. He could enter into no agreement nor did he wish to be shot up out of turn.

Later, Sajjad, whilst in Karachi, was rung up in the middle of the night and told to be on the 0700 hours flight to Islamabad to see the prime minister. Reluctant to go, he made no effort to take the flight and informed Islamabad accordingly. He flew up on the 1500 hour flight, met Benazir and was told that he ‘had missed the boat’ as arrangements had been made to swear him in that morning. It was now not possible as the president was leaving on a foreign tour. (End of story: on June 5, 1994, Sajjad was finally sworn in as chief justice of Pakistan, superseding three judges.)

Mian formerly of Model Town now of Raiwind Nawaz Sharif’s record is no better (rumour has it that he is vying with Zardari as to who ultimately will move into the presidential palace). Gohar Ayub Khan, in his book Glimpses into the Corridors of Power, relates how sometime early in Nov 1997 “The PM [Nawaz Sharif] asked me to accompany him to the PM House. In the car the PM put his hand on my knee and said, ‘Gohar Sahib, show me a way to arrest the Chief Justice [Sajjad Ali Shah] and keep him in jail for a night.’ ‘For heaven’s sake, do not even consider doing anything of the sort. The whole system will collapse,’ I told him.”

Nawaz held his horses, but not for long. On Nov 28, 1997, he struck. The Supreme Court had brought a contempt case against him for certain injudicious remarks he had made about the chief justice and his court. Nawaz was summoned. But rather than going there himself he and his party organised the physical storming of the Supreme Court by the PML ‘storm troopers’. This disgraceful and shaming incident is so well known that it needs no elaboration here. (I have written 11 columns on the incident and its follow-up when the matter was taken up by the Supreme Court at my instigation. These columns, in case anyone is interested, can by found on the Internet in the archives section of Dawn. They are dated Dec 7, Dec 14 and Dec 21, 1997; March 29, April 5, April 12, April 26, May 10, May 24 1998; Oct 31, Nov 21, Nov 28, 1999; Oct 1 and Oct 8, 2000.)

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