Is Iftikhar Chaudhry courting trouble?

This week’s Economist magazine has a rather odd take on the Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The article paints him as a manipulator, usurper and as someone at times even pursuing a personal vendetta. It is ironic that the Economist chose a word as strong as usurper in a week that an actual dictator and murderer was thrown off his throne. Surely one would feel some queasiness when using such a strong word for a man of law? I also find it ironic that while the Egyptian usurper, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown due to populist rage, the man labeled as usurper by The Economist was brought into ‘power’ by the same route.

The author(s) claims that many actions taken by the Chief Justice since his return to the Supreme Court, has been to hurt the ruling Zardari regime. The Economist claims that Iftikhar Chaudhry detests Zardari and the government, that he looks down on the parliament and that he’s too driven to take executive decisions himself and hound it to carry out orders of relatively dubious nature. It is this hatred of Zardari and a patronizing, disrespectful attitude towards the parliament that is driving much of the activities in the top most court of law in Pakistan.

However, if we were to engage in a little thought experiment and if we imagined Iftikhar Chaudhry to be an honourable man, who is sometimes prone to anger and erred at times, but nonetheless, overall he remained a patient and astute judge, honest, holding good intentions and intent on upholding the law and holding the executive to account.

What would we expect from the person described above, a portrayal one-hundred and eighty degrees from the one taken by the Economist? The simple answer is that we’d expect more or less what Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues in the Supreme Court have actually done since their return.

The Supreme Court pursued the case of Zardari’s Swiss accounts: this is a case that has been proven against Zardari and according to most neutral, well-informed lawyers, Zardari’s defense in this matter was riddled with holes. Should an honest judge, who wishes to rid the corridors of power of corruption, not begin accountability at the very top? Do we have to force ourselves to see vendetta here when we can see simple accountability at work?

There is no other reason to believe that the court has targeted the government in any particular way. It is only natural that the federal government, with the most power, responsibility and resources will be courting trouble more often than other more minor players. This greater power obviously gives them greater opportunities to misuse it and hence, a greater focus by the courts is surely normal. The court has also taken cases against the army as well as politicians from other parties. Even after accounting for the aforementioned facts, what has held the court back from taking many more cases from other parties is actually not any friendliness towards them, but the fact that (i) Pakistan People’s Party was one of the largest beneficiaries of the NRO and that (ii) the organization that would have pursued cases objectively against all parties, the National Accountability Bureau, has actually been weakened by the government itself. The court surely cannot be expected to take on the responsibilities of the police.

The court has also shown extraordinary respect for the parliament. Whenever Iftikhar Chaudhry speaks outside the court, his focus has essentially always been upholding the supremacy of the parliament, furthering the democratic process, building institutions to eliminate corruption and improving governance.

Whenever the court has given legal verdicts, it has done the utmost to respect parliament. In the case of NRO, the law could have been outrightly rejected, so feeble was its basis. However, the court chose a conciliatory and friendly approach and it gave the parliament a chance to act and decide whether they’d vote for or against the NRO. The court handed the baton to the representatives of the nation, instead of deciding the matter itself.

The same procedure took place with regard to the 18th constitutional amendment. There were at least a few parts that, according to a variety of experts, the court could have struck down. Instead, the court didn’t tinker much with the amendment and the one change it did deem necessary, it demanded parliament to reconsider that clause, again avoiding any potential clash.

The court was reluctant to involve politicians too much in the choice of judges. There can be differing opinions on this matter, however, I cannot see how one can use this decision to show the judges were patronizing towards the parliament. The parliament is very weak and it really doesn’t make the most important decisions in the country – is this news to anyone? The real decisions will be taken by Zardari and a few close aides, something that could have given politicians a chance to manipulate the choices of judges to their ends. While the parliament should be empowered more – eventually – it’s clear that in the current circumstances, it would be unwise to allow politicians to meddle too much in an institution that is finally being more honest and competent and shedding its legacy of toeing the line of dictators.

There’s no doubt that the court has erred at times. One rare occasions, anger and impatience at the intransigence of the government led it to give orders that it should not have given. However, these are minor mistakes when one sees the respect the judiciary has shown to the parliament as an institution and the judgments and precedence it has set to stop the path of future dictatorships from taking over civilian institutions.



12 responses to “Is Iftikhar Chaudhry courting trouble?”

  1. Delirium Avatar

    The article talks a lot of sense. Lately there has been some decrying about judicial activism to the extent of painting the CJ as a taliban apologist.

    Apparently the judiciary looks well on track to restore its lost credibility and emerge as a strong institution. On the other hand, as we all know, the parliament leaves a lot to be desired to come up to the mark.

  2. Dr.Jawwad Khan Avatar

    Pakistan needs the more troubling courts.

  3. TightDhoti Avatar

    The Economist article was abit here and there. But it is true that the Chaudhry Court is focusing on issues related to the current government (as it rightly should), but has failed to take up pending cases against the military, land grabs by military related organizations, HR abuses etc. Everyone is pretty much in agreement that the courts intervention in the sugar market caused more harm then good.

  4. Zaheer Khan Avatar
    Zaheer Khan

    The Economist Pakistan analysis is by Najam Sethi, which explains a lot about this story.

  5. KeynesianSpirits Avatar

    Zaheer Khan,

    Where do you have this information from?

    Does the Economist allow writers that it does not employ to contribute stories?


  6. animals questions Avatar

    ifthikar chaudry,,,i heared he have fake domicile,,but people treat him like a hero,why???

  7. Mujtaba Nadeem Avatar
    Mujtaba Nadeem

    Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Chaudhry, addressing the Karachi Bar Association on Saturday said, “If the judiciary exercises its power of judicial review, nobody should feel threatened or aggrieved.” The CJ is right in saying that the judiciary can exercise its power to review decisions but it is also pertinent to mention here that some of these decisions can be seen as interference in the executive’s work. One of the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) recent decisions in the Hajj scam case comes close to interference if looked at closely. The SC wants Director General (DG) Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Waseem Ahmed, removed from his position. The apex court had recently observed, “More than once it has been observed that the FIA chief, who himself is holding this post on contract basis, is responsible for not allowing the investigation into the instant case to proceed in a transparent manner.

    We have observed that very cunningly the incumbent CJP is playing double game, in the name of Justice and impartiality, he is actively putting entire weight to dislodge the government. He himself negates his words, on one hand he declares that Judiciary will working within its ambits while on the other hand Judiciary is clearly interfering in Executive’s matters.

    We have seen that the judiciary has not only endorsed military dictatorships in the past but other unconstitutional decisions by the judiciary have landed this country in a great mess. The judicial murder of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is a stigma on Pakistan’s judicial history, among other things. Whenever a military dictator toppled a government, he got a stamp of approval for his extra-constitutional measures by the judiciary. The amendments made in the constitution by the dictators at various times in our history also had the support of the judiciary.

  8. Saleem Ahmed Avatar

    Supreme Court removes “NAB Chairman Syed Deedar Hussain Shah” on the Instruction of Mehran Bank Scandal/General Aslam Beg Lawyer “Barrister Akram Sheikh” – Hot news of Jang

    Deedar Hussain Shah

    Nawaz trusted the new NAB chairman The News October 2010

  9. Saleem Ahmed Avatar

    Rafiq Tarar [PML-N and Former President of Pakistan] appointed “Syed Deedar Hussain Shah”

    Supreme Court judges’ strength completed Week Ending : 29 April 2000 Issue : 06/18 DAWN WIRE SERVICE

    ISLAMABAD, April 25: President Mohammad Rafiq Tarar on Tuesday appointed five judges to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. With the appointment of these judges, the strength of the Supreme Court judges, i.e. 17, stands completed.

    The newly-appointed judges include Justice Mian Mohammad Ajmal, Chief Justice, Peshawar High Court; Justice Deedar Hussain Shah, Chief Justice, High Court of Sindh; Justice Javed Iqbal, Chief Justice, High Court of Balochistan; Justice Hamid Ali Mirza, judge, High Court of Sindh and Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, judge, High Court of Sindh.

    These judges have been appointed to the SC from the date they respectively take upon themselves the execution of their offices as such judges.

    Following are the names of the judges of the Supreme Court according to their seniority:

    1. Justice Irshad Hassan Khan, Chief Justice of Pakistan, 2. Justice Mohammad Bashir Jehangiri, 3. Justice Sheikh Ijaz Nisar, 4. Justice Sheikh Riaz Ahmed, 5. Justice Ch. Mohammad Arif, 6. Justice Munir A. Sheikh, 7. Justice Abdul Rehman Khan 8. Justice Rashid Aziz Khan, 9. Justice Nazim Hussain Siddiqi, 10. Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, 11. Justice Qazi Mohammad Farooq, 12. Justice Rana Bhagwan Das, 13. Justice Mian Mohammad Ajmal, 14. Justice Deedar Hussain Shah, 15. Justice Javed Iqbal, 16. Justice Hamid Ali Mirza, 17. Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar.-APP

  10. Saleem Ahmed Avatar

    Deedar Hussain Shah also “enjoyed” the Company of CJ Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry:)

    Five judges elevated to SC Bureau Report DAWN WIRE SERVICE Week Ending : 5 February 2000 Issue : 06/05

    ISLAMABAD, Feb 2: The government elevated five judges to the Supreme Court on Wednesday. According to a notification, the president has appointed Justice Rashid Aziz, Chief Justice, Lahore High Court; Justice Nazim Hussain Siddiqui, Chief Justice Sindh High Court; Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Chief Justice, Balochistan High Court; Qazi Farooq, former chief justice of Peshawar High Court; and Justice Rana Bhagwan Das, judge, Sindh High Court, judges of the Supreme Court.

    After the elevation of Justice Rashid Aziz Khan to the SC, Justice Mohammad Allah Nawaz has been appointed Chief Justice of Lahore High Court.

    Justice Deedar Hussain Shah has been appointed Chief Justice of Sindh High Court and Justice Javed Iqbal Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court. After these appointments, the number of SC judges has risen to 12, leaving five posts vacant.

  11. Saleem Ahmed Avatar

    Chief Justice Pakistan's son Dr Arsalan with Kamran Khan on GEO TV (2007)