MIAN Nawaz Sharif is of late somewhat sidelined from his running mania that he claims has much to do with the ‘restoration’ of the judiciary and the upholding of an independence it has never enjoyed, whereas in reality it is all about ridding himself of and getting his own back on President Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

What now distracts him is his disqualification from standing for a by-election, handed down to him by the judiciary he is also trying to get rid of. He must also be pondering upon who is behind it all, who is engineering things, and who has stabbed him in the solar plexus.

The emerging Taliban is not as worrying for Nawaz as his latent tendencies, going by his record, swing towards the Taliban way of life. We must not forget his 15th ‘ameer-ul-momineen’ amendment bill which luckily for us came to naught. We must also never forget Nawaz’s tampering with the judiciary during his second round as prime minister. A very fine and precise narrative of the events leading up to the storming of the Supreme Court on Nov 28, 1997 and how it evolved is given in Shuja Nawaz’s book, Crossed Swords, which should be on every shelf.

Shuja has written after extensively interviewing the then president of the Republic, Farooq Leghari, and the then chief of army staff, Gen Jehangir Karamat, an honourable man. Elected in February 1997, one of the first steps taken by Nawaz was to push through his 13th constitutional amendment, annulling the 8th amendment and thus Article 58-2 (b), eliminating the presidential power to dissolve parliament and giving himself powers to appoint the armed services chiefs. Both president and army chief gave their assent to this move.

He then turned to the judiciary which he felt was hostile under Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Sajjad Ali Shah, who could be rather a thorn in the flesh. To quote from Crossed Swords : “Leghari recalls Sharif coming to see him in the company of Shahid Hamid (erstwhile friend of Leghari who had appointed him as governor of the Punjab but now had been won over by Sharif) to ask him to remove the chief justice. Sharif said that Hamid would make the case against the chief justice. Leghari said to Hamid, ‘Why didn’t you tell Nawaz Sharif my expected answer. It would be the same as Benazir Bhutto’s time. No!’ Hamid retorted, ‘At that time the judges were united. Now they are divided. We can do it!’ Leghari ... warned against this move.... But Sharif was not deterred.”

He somehow managed to get round Karamat, and instigated a revolt among the judges against the CJP who, meanwhile, had dismissed as unconstitutional Sharif’s 14th amendment which made it illegal for any parliamentarian to break ranks with his party when voting in the assembly. Sharif was furious, criticised the chief justice on the floor of the assembly, at which the chief justice filed a case of contempt against him.

Karamat was brought into play, as was the chief of the ISI, Lt Gen Nasim Rana. Leghari arranged a meeting to which all the principals were summoned. Gen Karamat started by asking the CJP whether he would withdraw the contempt case. Leghari recalls the CJP’s face turning red. ‘How can you interfere with cases?’ asked Shah. ‘I came here at the request of the President, not to decide cases.’ When Sharif asked Shah for ‘mercy’ what he got was ‘I am the chief justice not for mercy but for Justice!’.”

No date is given for this confrontation, but it must have been sometime late November as Sharif’s next move was to get the Balochistan High Court to file an appeal on Nov 26 against Shah’s original appointment. Leghari passed on this information to Karamat and also told him that Shah was about to restore Article 58-2 (b). That night at 10 pm Sharif rang Leghari and asked to meet him. He arrived with Karamat, Senate chairman Waseem Sajjad, former law minister Khalid Anwar, Ilahi Bakhsh Soomro, and Gen Rana.

The law minister produced a case against the chief justice and presented a judgment dismissing Shah for Leghari’s signature. Leghari had learnt that “suitcases of money had been taken to Balochistan to obtain this judgment against the chief justice by his fellow judges,” and said he would rather resign than sign. Resignation would be the best course, as Sajjad, who would take over as president, would do as they wanted. Leghari was urged by Karamat and Rana not to resign (Soomro chipping in with ‘Why should you resign for the sake of a mad old Sindhi judge?’) They all went home at 4 am, Karamat on departing telling Leghari that if he resigned he too would resign. Leghari’s retort to that was to tell Karamat not to do so as it would give Sharif total power — like giving ‘a monkey a razor’.

Later that day, Nov 28, “the PML supporters stormed the Supreme Court.” By Dec 2, both Leghari and Shah had resigned, leaving Sajjad free to do as he liked as acting president and a new CJP, Justice Ajmal Mian. Karamat lasted until October the following year, when he was pushed by Sharif into resigning. What a sorry tale!

Nothing changes. Nawaz Sharif and his men are back, as are Asif Zardari and his bunch of dangerous cronies, all preaching democracy. They, with the advancing Taliban, will destroy, even maim and kill, to get their way. And the poor will suffer on — and on.

The one piece of bright news to come our way in Karachi last week came via the Consul General of France, Pierre Seillan, a considerate and kind man who takes much interest in the welfare of the poorer and the deprived of the city. For some time, the prisoners in Karachi Central Jail have been given the opportunity to attend art classes.

Pierre, together with Mohammad Yamin Khan, the Sindh Inspector General of Prisons, organised an exhibition at the Alliance Francaise of paintings and drawings produced by the prisoners. As the invitation card announced it was an exhibition of ‘Imprisonistic’ drawings and paintings — and it was most impressive and even more touching to see what transpires in the minds of these unfortunate men.

Overheard at the opening of the exhibition was a classic remark: Whilst the poor petty thieves and druggies suffer inside …, the Grand Larcenists are out and about, their crimes forgiven and forgotten, trumpeting their love and affection for an ‘independent’ judiciary, something they could never either tolerate or live with.

arfc@cyber.net.pk

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