As I See It |
A nation in crisis
Ikram Sehgal writes from Karachi
Naeem Bokhari's open letter to the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan was appalling for several reasons. Firstly, it tarnished the image of a man for whom one has great respect, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, and secondly, it came from the pen of another man for whom one has great respect.
If the facts stated therein are true, then the letter needed to be written; it should not have been made public. "Excesses" as per Naeem's letter are commonplace in Pakistan, bringing it to the public domain demeans an office one should always hold sacred, as much as anything can be held sacred in Pakistan.
Triggering an unfortunate sequence of events, which for a time spun out of control, the letter had a backlash of sorts. It enhanced the stature of the man, which the letter sought to demean, and tarnished the image of the letter writer, bringing him down many rungs from the pedestal he rightly should be on. Naeem Bokhari has class, he is no ordinary being, and the letter has made him look like us ordinary mortals.
When senior judges of the higher courts are sitting in judgment on their brother colleague, one should not comment, both justice and common sense will certainly prevail. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's period as chief justice was exciting because of his activist role in pursuing cases of public consequence in a fair and positive manner.
Most impressive in raising the stature of the Bench, the Honourable CJ's integrity and character have never been questioned. The people of Pakistan badly need justice to be exercised, the only way was a forced "trickle-down" effect from the Supreme Court to the Provincial High Courts and downwards. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was making it happen by example, that is a solid public perception.
The CJ's removal was very badly handled, somehow it seems to be an off-the-cuff knee-jerk reaction to his refusing to roll over and play dead! Elements in the government were raring to have a go at him, their motives coinciding with the apprehensions (or misapprehensions) of the president about his doffing of the uniform. Stoked with a vengeance, it resulted in a no-win situation.
The president's advisors game-planned that when the CJ would be confronted with his "misdoings" he would tamely resign. His stubbornness scrambled the script. The president would have been better served if saner legal counsels of the government had reviewed the subsequent reference.
Thereafter, what happened can simply be described as abhorrent and shocking, acknowledged by everyone except the likes of the federal minister for information; Durrani and credibility do not go together. To retain a shred of credibility, the government should put their miserable "mouthpiece" out of his misery.
Durrani's patent and blatant falsehoods on primetime TV only added fuel to the fire, compounding the administration's gaffes till better sense prevailed and the CJ was sent "on forced leave" pending adjudication by the SJC. The CJ's humiliation notwithstanding, the country's humiliation could have been avoided by a less "gung-ho" attitude.
This was an incident wanting to happen, the result of an attitude of being above the rule of law inculcated over the years. One of the most decorated brigadiers of this army, Brig (Retd) Mohammad Taj, SJ & Bar, was beaten up (for whatever reason), and the minions who did that walked off with what amounted to mere slaps on the wrist.
The president did apologize to Brig Taj over telephone, but what about those up the line who ordered the outrage? In the absence of accountability thereof, a bigger outrage was waiting to happen. In the CJ's case, some tried to be "more loyal than the king," a la Henry II and Becket, "who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?"
Pervez Musharraf has unnecessarily been put under pressure domestically when he least needed it. The western perception is that his heart (and that of his army) is not fully behind anti-Qaeda/anti-Talibaan operations in Pakistan, particularly in South Waziristan.
Now everyone and his uncle is predicting Musharraf's imminent downfall on the CJ issue. To add grist to the mill, the Nab Cell pursuing the corruption cases against Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari has been wound up. News of a likely "deal" swept through Pakistan, hotly denied by the president's spokesman, and (not so hotly) by the PPP.
With the "Lal Masjidees" further queering the pitch by proclaiming their own version of "Kingdom of Heaven" in Islamabad and spouting edicts thereof, religious and/or otherwise, the political and geo-political rumour mills started to churn out various permutations and combinations.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz emerging as the most likely scapegoat. I have always believed since the early 90s that either of the two Citibank Shaukats, Aziz or Tareen, was suitable PM-material. However, no real friend would wish someone such a thankless job as that of the prime minister of Pakistan, the trappings of office notwithstanding.
Ours is a genuinely ungrateful lot that forgets you within days (if not hours) of your leaving office, ask my good friend Zafarullah Jamali about all those who came to see him off at the Rawalpindi Railway Station on the day he left office. Shaukat Aziz has done extremely well for Pakistan, and one is proud of him, never more so than at the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos recently.
Only Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf have stood out in this august forum as Pakistani leaders of any consequence, evoking genuine respect from a crowd of high-potential executives, hard-bitten and mostly of the cynical-kind.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry (and his family) did not deserve their ordeal. It was unfair and unnecessary, and it demeaned us as a nation. Unfortunately, despite the heat of the moment, the CJ addressed the Rawalpindi Bar Council.
While it is very much his right to do so, and he did scrupulously avoid mention of his personal predicament, the fact is that in the very charged political environment prevailing, a very politically charged crowd of lawyers took him in a procession to the location.
The theme of the meeting was anti-government, by his presence the CJ took sides. Unfortunately, his person has thus become political, and made the CJ's locus standi controversial. The CJ will probably win the battle to clear his name, he could end up losing the war.
He can resume his office as the CJ but, as a man of conscience, can he continue to do so without tarring permanently as political the office of the chief justice of the Supreme Court?
As for Musharraf, paraphrasing Mark Twain's reaction when he was told about news of his death being circulated, "the rumours of Musharraf's departure are greatly exaggerated." This man is at his best when he is in a corne. This soldier may have been politically wounded, but it is when he is seemingly down when he can be quite lethal.
Musharraf is not going anywhere, at least not yet! Neither is Shaukat Aziz.