The Supreme Court saw more upheaval on Thursday when Justice Ijazul Ahsan followed Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi’s lead and tendered his resignation.

His resignation, sent to the president, provided no clear reason for his decision and came just a day after Naqvi’s. He described his time in the apex court as an “honour and privilege” but added that “I no longer wish to continue as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”

He tendered his resignation under per Article 206(1) of the Constitution with immediate effect.

Justice Ahsan’s resignation took the legal community by surprise, and the lawyers Dawn.com spoke to pretty much unanimously regarded it as a sad day for the top judiciary.

Lawyer Rida Hosain recalled that in 2023, Justice Ijazul Ahsan was part of the bench that declared military trials of civilians as “unconstitutional” and struck down Section 2(1)(d) of the Pakistan Army Act 1952 in its entirety.

“The decision was historic, brave, and a victory for fundamental rights,” she said, adding that Justice Ahsan was also part of the bench that ordered provincial polls to be held on time. “In both cases, in the face of immense pressure, the Supreme Court including Justice Ahsan did its job.”

“Differences with certain decisions of Justice Ahsan notwithstanding, today is a sad day for our Supreme Court,” she remarked.

Lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii said Naqvi’s resignation was expected but Justice Ahsan’s was not. “He (Naqvi) had cut a deal with the last set of people who ran Pakistan and had benefitted both in terms of power and material.”

He said the new set of “big boys didn’t like his past loyalties which he stuck to, so the charges magically appeared with evidence like they had against Justice Isa.”

He suggested that in Naqvi’s case, the evidence was stronger, and the charges were actually rather straight forward and quite serious. “His audio leaks with political figures, him being talked about between Parvez Elahi and his lawyer were all clear signs of how people were out to get him.”

Commenting on the resignation of Justice Ahsan, Jaferii said there was “much more here than met the eye”.

“The simplest explanation is that Justice Ahsan couldn’t handle the heat. There was something he was afraid would come up, which he had until now been able to manage because he had someone more senior than himself to hide behind.”

The lawyer said it was sad that the outgoing judge had been hounded out by the same set of forces he helped to hunt all these years. “It is sad that he was too afraid of getting wet in the rain even before the first real clap of thunder.

“Can you imagine what it must take for someone ten months away from the chief justice ship of Pakistan to walk away after having bided their time as the sidekick of so many chief justices?” Jaferii wondered.

Another lawyer Basil Nabi Malik summed up Justice Ahsan’s legacy as “controversial”. “He has courted controversy in several high-profile cases, prompting numerous questions about the ramifications of his legal opinions and verdicts.”

However, Malik reminded that Justice Ahsan, on some occasions, had also been on the right side of history, siding in favour of civilian protections and preservation of fundamental rights.

“Irrespective of which side of the spectrum you lie in terms of your opinion about his verdicts, if news of his resignation is true, it would be a sad day for the judiciary,” Malik stated.

He said judicial independence pivoted itself on judges being able to render popular and unpopular legal opinions without any fear of their continuity or any concern for external pressures.

“If this resignation has come about on account of a judge feeling victimised for his verdicts, whatsoever they may be, that would be a dangerous precedent for all those to follow. Let us hope that is not the case,” he added.

Barrister Asad Rahim, while speaking to Dawn.com, also termed the resignation as “a sad day” for the top court as an institution, and for the justice system in general.

Having stepped down while virtually guaranteed to become the next CJP, Justice Ahsan has added to his reputation, Rahim said.

“Unlike others, there wasn’t a single smudge on his financial integrity, and the most recent larger benches he headed provided decisions correct in the law and courageous besides; the same was true of his dissents against a Court circumventing the parliamentary will and the need for two-thirds majority”.

According to Rahim, Justice Ahsan’s resignation will have “far-reaching consequences”.

Lawyer Ayman Zafar called the departure of Justice Ahsan as “a critical moment for the nation’s legal system and judiciary”.

She remarked that the consecutive resignations had brought “the country to a crucial point, just weeks before the general elections.”

She noted that the apex court had been full of surprises lately, introducing an element of unpredictability into the legal and judicial landscape of the country.

“At present, there remains a considerable degree of ambiguity, contributing to uncertainties surrounding the future trajectory of Pakistan’s legal system,” Zafar added.

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