Our great redeemers – 2

Published Jun 15, 2008 12:00am

IT has to be said, the evidence being clearly on the ground, that by and large this is a nation of ‘junglees’ — there are too many of us who have yet to lose our tails. Whenever, a ‘core issue’ (to use one of President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s favourite phrases) arises, brawn weighs heavily over brain.

How much has this ‘long march’ which was not a march but a drive (we have had ‘marches’ in vehicles and trains in the past orchestrated by our political leaders) burdened this deprived nation and its thirsty and hungry people? If street thinking or street power is to be believed, the funds for the lawyers’ movement and for this culmination have emanated from the coffers of Mian Nawaz Sharif and his brand of Muslim League, whose coffers were and are filled to the brim with the nation’s money.

We must always remember that if this country had law and order, accompanied by justice of the genuine type, many of those who now lord it over this country would be looking at us, rather than lounging in their gilded chairs, through the spaces between the bars that separated them from us.

Nawaz Sharif, now championing the cause of an independent judiciary purely as a means of getting his own back on Musharraf, was once caught out when he carelessly signed a loan agreement that was subject to English law. During his second term in office, whilst riding high, his Hudaiba Paper Mill borrowed money from Investment Funds Limited operated by Al-Tawfik Company. Defaulters are held to be accountable in England and Mian Sahib and his partners were dealt with successfully by the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in London. That court did what no court in Pakistan could or dare do.

A master of the court, not even a judge, served an order on the defendants in September 1998 and properties in London were attached. End of story. The Sharifs paid up the loan plus interest amounting to approximately US$450m within 16 months. According to the Mians, which is somewhat unbelievable, the money was paid back by an ‘Arab friend’ out of pure love and affection. The details of the repayment were not disclosed, as requested by the Sharifs. The lenders did not object and the court so ordered.

The Sharif clan owed almost half a billion dollars which they held abroad, and which they repaid. How many of us have a ‘friend’ so friendly that he will repay for us a debt totalling millions of dollars?

Nawaz’s professed love for an independent judiciary can never ring true in the light of his past dealings with the judiciary of his country. His party man, Gohar Ayub, in his book published last year, has recounted how one day early in November 1997 Nawaz wanted to arrest the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Sajjad Ali Shah, and jail him for a night, merely because he was getting uppity. A couple of weeks later, on Nov 28, came the storming of the Supreme Court. The arrival outside the court of the ‘storm-troopers’ was recorded in detail by the international TV news channels and the action inside the court is on record, on cassettes, recorded by the closed circuit cameras installed in the Supreme Court.

Then we come to our courts and judges. After Sajjad Ali Shah had been unseated, I received a cassette upon which was recorded the events of Nov 28, 1997 as recorded on the CCTV cameras. I sent a copy of this cassette to the new chief justice, Ajmal Mian, asking him to investigate the matter and take suo motu action. Believable, because we all know how our judiciary has evolved, is the fact that many of the judges sitting in the Supreme Court resented this — they did not want the storming to be taken up, and rather than taking measures to strengthen the internal security in the court they did the opposite.

A letter dated Jan 7, 1998 (No.P.Reg : 174/97-SCA) was sent by Registrar Mohammad Zakaullah to Ikram Sehgal, the owner of the security service, SMS. It read:

“I am directed to inform you that the CCTV security monitoring system installed by your Company in Oct 1996 in the Supreme Court building, Islamabad, is no more required and may be removed. I am also directed to convey the appreciation of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Pakistan [Ajmal Mian] and Judges of this Court for this gesture and your concern for the security of the court and it judges as a result of which you offered to install this security system in the court building free of cost. This indeed has been very useful and gave us an added sense of security during the days of turmoil.” What is one to make of it?

The fame of our redeemer of the judiciary, Aitzaz Ahsan, has spread far and wide. The New York Times printed a lengthy spread on him on June 1. His interviewer, James Traub, describes him as being “almost recklessly outspoken”. In Benazir Bhutto’s first government, Aitzaz “served as minister of law and the interior, making him, he says, ‘virtually the deputy prime minister’. But Benazir’s inexperience, her imperious manner…” Why did a man steeped in law choose also to head the ‘dirty tricks brigade’?

“You can’t have a democracy without an independent judiciary,” says Aitzaz, “And you can certainly not construct a parliamentary structure on the debris of the judicial edifice.” As for the judges, “There have been corrupt and vile chief justices in the past,” but to him the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry “seemed to be a prince, the prince who challenges authority, defies his executioners and was prepared to go to the gallows holding his head up.”

So says the Cambridge Chaudhry and good for him. But Traub sees it otherwise. “The chief justice had become a political shuttlecock. Both the Bush administration and the PPP would have liked to bat him down but could not publicly say so. The PML-N wanted to keep him aloft, both because Nawaz Sharif, who as prime minister had trampled on civil liberties, would be delighted to position himself as the champion of democracy against a reluctant or double-dealing Zardari.”

As Traub relates, “Zardari, Aitzaz told me flatly, ‘doesn’t want independent judges. He wants dependent judges’.” Poor Chief Justice Chaudhry — he deserves better.

arfc@cyber.net.pk


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