The story of the storming of the Supreme Court on Friday November 28, 1997, by ministers, parliamentarians, and supporters of the second government of Mian Nawaz Sharif is a subject upon which all those who were members of the executive, legislature, and judiciary at that point in time do not care to dwell.
That same sorry day, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Sajjad Ali Shah, the main object of the storming, wrote to President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari narrating the facts of the incident, requesting him to take action under Article 190 of the Constitution and provide security cover for the court and its judges by calling in the army for their protection.
He also narrated how "a Judge of this Court", Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, had overstepped his mark by hearing petitions which he should not have heard without the authority of the Chief Justice, how he had passed administrative orders without proper authorization, and how he, with some of his brethren acquiescing, had deliberately caused a division amongst the judges of the apex court of the land. He asked the president to take the necessary steps for action against Siddiqui by the Supreme Judicial Council.
The president the following day addressed a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, enclosing a copy of the Chief Justice's letter and called upon him to act under Article 190 of the Constitution and order the army to provide security cover to the court and its judges, and to also initiate proceedings for misconduct against Justice Saiduzzaman Siddiqui.
The prime minister responded the same day with a long rambling letter declining both requests. Sufficient security had already been provided, he stated, and thus calling in the army was not necessary. And to his mind there was no justification in taking any action against Justice Siddiqui [who later was to be his favoured Chief Justice] merely because Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah had so demanded.
On May 9, 1998, I filed an application in the Supreme Court before the bench constituted to inquire into the matter of the storming which, inter alia, read: "As per the Court's direction to my request that certain concerned and relevant persons whose statements would enlighten the court be summoned to testify regarding the November, 28, 1997, storming of the Supreme Court, I herewith submit my application listing suggested names." The first name on my list was that of "former President of Pakistan Farooq Leghari, who is well aware of the facts leading up to the assault upon the Supreme Court, as well as the facts relating to the actual assault."
The bench, for whatever unfathomable reasons, did not consider it necessary to summon Leghari. The stance of the three judges was that if Leghari wished to appear and give evidence he should apply in writing and they would then consider his application.
This Leghari did not do.
The matter dragged on and on through the tenures of Chief Justices Ajmal Mian and Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui and the government of Nawaz Sharif. When Justice Irshad Hassan Khan took over as Chief Justice last year under this military government he revived the matter in September, a thousand days down the road, and ordered the Islamabad Inspector-General of Police to institute an inquiry to be conducted by a Superintendent of Police "to identify the miscreants involved in this incident and thereafter proceed in accordance with the law."
The results of such an inquiry and the tracing of the masterminds could have well been anticipated. On March 25 this year a story in the national press, dateline Islamabad, told us that the inquiry team "filed a sketchy report and that too, too late, reportedly because of political considerations to engineer the restructuring of the ousted ruling party." Reportedly the interior ministry had refused access to Mushahid Hussain and Saifur Rahman, both incarcerated at the time, and their plan to request that Nawaz Sharif be produced for interrogation was thwarted by his exile to Saudi Arabia.
The 23-page report sent to the Supreme Court was incomplete, and largely a complaint about the inability of the investigating officers, due to the non-cooperation of the government, to interview any of the leading masterminds behind the planning and execution of the storming.
Coincidentally, on March 19, Farooq Leghari addressed an audience here in Karachi at a seminar organized by the Helpline Trust. He very frankly and openly spoke out, with no holds barred, about how one main aim of both the second governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, during both of which he was president of the Republic, was to get the better of the judiciary and put the judges in what they considered to be their rightful place.
His reminiscences and recollections of his presidential period were recorded. He unequivocally stated that they both intended to do whatever they could do to "subjugate the judiciary and to do away with the concept of the supremacy of the rule of law".
Leghari related how on the night of November 27/28, 1997, Nawaz Sharif accompanied by COAS Jehangir Karamat, National Assembly Speaker Ilahi Bakhsh Soomro, Senate Chairman Wasim Sajjad, and Law Minister Khalid Anwer came to see him and advised him to denotify Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and appoint Ajmal Mian in his place.
The cassette recording is being forwarded to the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The case is still open and it is very necessary that the Supreme Court examine former President Farooq Leghari under oath and finally come to a conclusion as to the part played in the whole sordid episode by the leaders of a government in power, by certain judges of the court itself, by the then sitting Senator Rafiq Ahmed Tarrar who now occupies Aiwan-e-Sadar, and by leading members of the legal fraternity.
The very least that the law can do is to disqualify Nawaz Sharif, his entire cabinet, and all others belonging to whatever pillar of the state, who were responsible for masterminding, engineering, and storming the Supreme Court, from holding any office for at least ten years. Do we want such elements to rule over us again or to hold any positions of power? No country can prosper or progress unless law and order is enforced and prevails.