ISLAMABAD, March 16: Hundreds of highly motivated demonstrators fought running battles with helmeted personnel of law-enforcement agencies carrying shields and batons along the Constitution Avenue and adjoining roads as protesting lawyers gave a rousing reception to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry when he made his second appearance before a tribunal at the Supreme Court on Friday.
Armed to the teeth, police and other paramilitary forces liberally used tear gas and rubber bullets against unprotected protesters, who found a ready “ammunition depot” in bricks and stones lying along the capital’s streets.
Such was the dexterity with which the streetwise agitators threw the rocky projectiles that they soon had the riot police and anti-terrorist squads on the back-foot.
While violent protests across the capital left the police so unnerved that they stormed a TV channel’s office, Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao felt confident that the government would finally be able to overcome the crisis.
“This will soon fizzle out. This so-called protest of lawyers and opposition parties will die down very soon. This cannot pull down our government,” he insisted.
While the capital administration had taken the precaution of rounding up over a 100 activists of various political parties, including Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal MNA Mian Mohammad Aslam, and stopping droves of incoming protesters at main entry points like Faizabad, Sector I-9, Kashmir Highway and Chattar, a large number of demonstrators did succeed in leapfrogging security restrictions and turning up in Islamabad.
Much to the administration’s consternation, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad not only managed to defy a ban on his presence in Islamabad but also led the Friday prayers near the Supreme Court. Army commandoes in plain clothes — they were actually dressed in colourful jogging suits — bundled him into a waiting van that took him away.
Counsel for the chief Justice Aitzaz Ahsan drove Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in his white four-wheeler, escorted by eight vehicles, to the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon.
Justice Iftikhar was visibly pleased at the emotional manner in which lawyers chanting anti-government slogans showered flower petals on him and kissed the windscreen of the slow-moving vehicle in which he was travelling.
Justice Iftikhar later attended the second meeting of the Supreme Judicial Council which heard his application challenging the “constitutionality of the Council”.
President Gen Pervez Musharraf on March 9 made Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry “non-functional” and sent a reference against him to the SJC under Article 209 of the Constitution.
Acting Chief Justice Javed Iqbal heads the SJC.
In addition to him, the other judges who took part in Friday’s meeting were Supreme Court Justices Abdul Hameed Dogar and Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Hussain Chaudhry and Sindh High Court Chief Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed.
According to a SJC statement, Aitzaz Ahsan, who is leading the panel of advocates representing Justice Iftikhar, sought an adjournment for hearing of the application till March 26 on the plea that he had not been able to meet his client on March 13 because of “hindrances created by the security personnel deployed outside the Chief Justice House”.
The other lawyers representing Justice Iftikhar are Supreme Court Bar Association president Munir A. Malik, Pakistan Bar Council vice-chairman Ali Ahmed Kurd, former SCBA president Hamid Khan and Tariq Mehmood.
The statement adds that the SJC also listened to Attorney-General Makhdoom Ali Khan and “the counsel for the Referring Authority on the Issue”.
The “Referring Authority” is obviously President Gen Musharraf.
While lawyers Raja Qureshi and Raja Abdul Rahman represented the “Referring Authority” in Friday’s meeting, it is believed that Senator Khalid Ranjha, former law minister, will be the principal counsel for the state.
The SJC statement says: “The Supreme Judicial Council made it clear that there was absolutely no restraint on the respondent who can move freely and every one has access to him. Insofar as the security measures are concerned, this aspect of the matter squarely falls within the jurisdictional domain of the executive/police. Therefore, the Council directed learned counsel for the Referring Authority to ensure that every step is taken in accordance with law.”
The SJC adjourned the hearing of the application to March 21 at 3pm.
The panel of lawyers defending the suspended chief justice briefed reporters on their interpretation of the SJC order. They asserted that, subject to security measures, Justice Iftikhar would now on be able to decide who to meet. They added that objections raised by Justice Iftikhar against the composition of the SJC would also be discussed in the next hearing.
Sources told Dawn that a joint application moved earlier on behalf of the Pakistan Bar Council and the Supreme Court Bar Association seeking permission to become interveners in the SJC inquiry had been withdrawn because the SJC had allowed Chairman of the PBC Executive Committee Qazi Anwar to join the panel of defence lawyers.
Hamid Khan told newsmen that the defence counsel had not yet been provided a copy of the reference.
Supporters of Justice Iftikhar chanted anti-president slogans while the SJC, whose second meeting on Friday lasted for over a 100 minutes, remained in session.
Stung by criticism that the leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party had stayed away from the first SJC meeting on March 13, PPP sent front-ranking leaders and activists to the Supreme Court on Friday.
Political leaders who took part in Friday’s demonstrations included Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Raza Rabbani, Yousaf Raza Gillani, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Jehangir Badar, Nisar Khoro, Naheed Khan, Sherry Rehman, Safdar Abbasi, Latif Khosa, Fauzia Wahab, Fehmida Mirza, Azra Fazal, Nayyar Bokhari and Enver Baig of the PPP; Chaudhry Nisar Ali, Zafar Ali Shah, Tehmina Daultana, Chaudhry Abid Sher Ali, Khawaja Asif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N; and Asfandyar Ali, Zahid Khan, Azam Hoti and Raza Muhammad Raza of nationalist parties.
Most of the main leaders of the MMA had already been arrested on Thursday night. But prominent among those MMA leaders present in Islamabad on Friday was Hafiz Hussain Ahmed.
(Additional reporting by Ihtasham ul Haq, Munawwar Azeem, Mohammad Asghar and Amir Waseem.)