May you perish quietly into the night

On December 11, 2013, Iftikhar Chaudhry left office as the longest serving Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. He is credited with being one of the main reasons behind Musharraf’s downfall, after having stood up against the president’s pressures to relieve him from office in March 2007. For a number of Pakistanis, and for most international figures abroad, CJ Chaudhry is a symbol of defiance against military dictatorship, corruption and the abrogation of human rights law.

To me he is a scoundrel in scoundrel’s clothes.

As contemptible as the Military’s meddling in politics, is the judiciary’s meddling in politics. Iftikhar Chaudhry signified the partisanship of the judicial institution in a country where checks and balances between the three branches of government (or four branches if you include the military in countries like Pakistan and Egypt) are nebulous and open to self-serving interpretations.

It wasn’t really the missing person’s case that led Musharraf to take action to dismiss Cahudhry in 2007, it was his court case hearing on the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills. True, Pakistan Steel Mills was a flawed acquisition tilted in favour of the foreign buyers (a Saudi-Russian consortium, speak of odd bedfellows), and underscored the amount of corruption running through the Pakistani government at the time (although no such corruption was ever incontrovertibly proved by the Supreme Court). However, it was a comedy of farcical proportions that led to the transformation of this “tiff” between old lovers (Musharraf and Chaudhry) to an all out battle against autocracy in which the Chief Justice was the accidental hero.

Seat of the almighty Chief Justice of Pakistan

Seat of the almighty Chief Justice of Pakistan

Far from being the champion of democratic values, CJ Chaudhry was all too happy to jump on the bandwagon of Musharraf’s military coup. Where was his democracy-loving nature when he accepted appointment by a military ruler and endorsed his unlawful constitutional amendments back in 2002? It is sad that someone like Saeedulzaman Siddiqi, who was Chief Justice at the time of the 1999 coup, and who refused to confer legitimacy to Musharraf’s actions, is now someone hardly remembered as a champion of freedom and democracy, while an opportunist such as Chaudhry is. It was extremely ironic to hear CJ Chaudhry decry those who took oath under the Provincial Constitutional Order of November 2007 when he himself had done the exact very same five years earlier.

The case of Baluchi missing persons which was suo motu taken up by Chaudhry was thrown on the backburner after his re-imposition as Chief Justice. It was only a day before he left office that the Supreme Court finally issued a verdict denouncing arbitrary internment by the military. Perhaps the Chief Justice was too meek to anger the military again, and decided to postpone this decision until he was already packed and out of office. Or perhaps he really didn’t care about the missing persons as much as we thought he did. Or perhaps he was just too busy with more pressing cases.

During the PPP government it seemed obvious that Chaudhry was concerned with much more important things than the fate of thousands of detainees. Human Rights, he probably thought, was an issue for human rights lawyers, for civil society, for lesser men than he. For it was up to him to play the grand game of Politics, and bring forth the Supreme Court of Pakistan as one of the major political players in the country. No one would dare mess with judges after he was through with everyone.

But to what grand cause, or in whose interest, and to what avail, did Chaudhry so intently pursue issues such as rescinding the National Reconciliation Order, or forcing Prime Minister Gilani to resign his post, or getting a foreign government to review a corruption case against the President of the state? Gilani’s efforts to bring back a semblance of governance to Pakistan, including his reinvigoration of Chaudhry’s beloved Pakistan Steel Mills, were not enough to win him the favour of Pakistan’s new political animal.

It is a shame whenever judges become partners in crime in the political quagmire of their own countries. It is especially heinous when they do so knowingly, deliberately, and with an air of presumptuous hubris.  It must not be conjectured however that military dictatorships or unaccountable governments should be condoned. I welcome with alacrity any legal institution that confronts both with the uncompromising writ of the law, but find disdainful judges willing to use their office to build spurious legacies of glory when in fact their histories are a testament to wavering morality and astute opportunism.

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