One-stop shop for all ills

Illustration by Sabir Nazar

Illustration by Sabir Nazar

Writing about revolution, Karl Marx once said that people who are learning a new language will invariably begin by translating it back into a familiar mother tongue. Let us suspend judgment for the moment on whether the lawyers’ movement can properly be termed a revolution or not. What, however, is the ultimate proof or expression of power in Pakistan? At least in the familiar language of the past, it is the ability to send elected prime ministers home.

Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, did formally arrive on the big stage, joining the ranks of the historically powerful in June 2012, when he sent Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani packing. Also in the same year, he reportedly remarked that an advertisement involving Katrina Kaif was of such a nature that it could not be watched with one’s family and hence action should be taken. This does illustrate the spectrum of power and vigilance displayed by Justice Chaudhry in 2012.

While the disqualification of then prime minister Gilani remains probably the most significant event of the last year, it is by no means a single example. Ever since the restoration of Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan, there has been a vague feeling that the court considers itself the representative of the people. That vagueness is removed now. The Chief Justice has repeatedly said that the court represents the will of the people. With the utmost of deference, it seems that the Supreme Court does not like the elected parliament and believes it to be corrupt and incompetent. Another fact that is beyond dispute now is that the Chief Justice is the Supreme Court. There has been no dissent in any major constitutional case in the past four years. The Supreme Court has accepted, or perhaps more accurately proclaimed, the Chief Justice as its leader. We do not know yet if this is ultimately a good or bad thing; still it forms a slight cause for alarm.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry signifies an activist judiciary in Pakistan. He has taken judicial activism to its limits in order to establish that the judiciary is the final arbiter of the Constitution in Pakistan. He believes that the Constitution has either been deliberately violated or suffered benign neglect at the hands of all the organs of the state. He, therefore, thinks that the time has come when the judiciary must stand up for strict compliance and enforcement of the Constitution in all its manifestations. This objective cannot be achieved, in his opinion, without subjecting the executive and the legislature to the Constitution and strict adherence to it. 

— Hamid Khan is a lawyer and senior vice-president of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

Earlier in the last year, the court took cognisance of the “memo” allegedly written by Hussain Haqqani, then Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, to solicit American support against the Pakistan Army. The foray into national security and foreign policy was a first, even by the elevated standards of judicial activism of the past four years. Here again, there was the recognisable taste of guarding our national interest at all costs even if that cost entailed some disregard of democratic values. From appointment and transfer of government officials to setting the prices of the CNG to delimitation of the constituencies, Chaudhry’s influence has been visible everywhere. The rhetoric about separation of powers has effectively been buried. The Chief Justice would act on anything and everything which he believes to be in public interest. His intentions have always been noble, if also grand and, as is the case with most grand intentions, the narrow confines of procedure have to sometimes be traversed.

One thing Justice Chaudhry is not lacking in is courage, although there are excesses sometimes. Indeed, courage it was which led to the brief shining moment this past year, when for the first time in Pakistan’s history the military establishment and intelligence agencies were indicted by him in the Asghar Khan case.

The decision in the Asghar Khan case decided in 2012, in particular the direction that army officers are not to obey unlawful commands made by superior officers outside the battle field, has the potential to strengthen democracy by warning accomplices of future military intruders into the constitutional process that they will be held criminally liable for their actions, without being able to hide behind the defence of obedience to the command of a superior.

— Salman Akram Raja is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan


The temptation to judge him too harshly should be resisted. We have made him into the omnipotent, one-stop shop for all our ills. Not a single day passes when a political leader, a media anchor or just someone from the public does not demand the Chief Justice to take “suo moto” notice of one thing or the other. He now has a constituency and people with constituencies become predictable, perhaps even weak — doing what is expected of them. As Chaudhry now goes around addressing bar councils around the country, it does not strike one as a sign of strength. What

W H Auden wrote in his tribute to Yeats, “he became his admirers” is applicable here.

Chaudhry chose to swear on the Holy Book when allegations of corruption were leveled against his son. The yet unproven allegations against his son are not unusual for sons of powerful men in Pakistan. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry of the lawyers’ movement was an ideal, a principle; it was his moment of immortality. Nobody ever lives up to that moment again; it is perilous to even try.

The Chief Justice of 2012 represents our desire for solutions from above, our quest for the “Messiah” and perhaps the dangers involved.

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co.

(In the print edition, the words “ministers home” were missing from the following line: At least in the familiar language of the past, it is the ability to send elected prime ministers home. This was due to a proofing error that we regret.)

23 thoughts on “One-stop shop for all ills

  1. Overall a nicely written artical, I will requote one of the statements above from Hamid Khan which nicely sums the whole artical

    “The impact of his judgments in 2012 proves the point that if the executive and the legislature fail to deliver and perform their respective functions under the Constitution, the judiciary would be justified in occupying constitutional and political space that is left open as a consequence.”

  2. Had there not be even a modicum of caution in the ruling Junta’s minds of the presence of the CJ, they would have sold the country to the highest dollar bidder. This is not democracy but an evil face of it. I feel insulted when someone abroad tells me that Zardari is our President. They are all Ali Baba and 40 thieves by now. The only thing Zardari is good at is to buy people out. And where he cannot do it then the way to nirvana is always available.

    • Dear Sir , you will get your answer from the holy Book.

      ” I will install such rulers on nations as they deserve. How ever the rulers will still be better than the nation itself.”

  3. Is Mr Iftikhar Muhamad Chaudhary the same Chief Justice under whose very nose the light refreshment products of Shehzan Company being sold in the various ourts were discontinued just because of the company’s owners being Ahmadis? How fair and justice driven can he get at times?

    • Alas! ever since more than 120 graves of the Ahmadiyya minority community graveyard in the MuslimTown locality of Lahore were desecrated and the picture of the broken marble stone of graves were splashed through out the world press and electronic media, I was expecting a ‘sou moto’ action from the chief justice, but I feel extremely pained and would say with a heavy heart that this most inhuman, unthinkable act of cruel barbarism seems to have not come into the notice of our otherwise ever vigilant CJ.

    • Cheif has his own agenda. Does not care how minorities are getting targetted and killed. Not even a single action. He makes unconstitutional decision and no one is able to challeng him. If anyone does, it becomes contemp of court. Amazing…

  4. I am sure there must be many in the government ruing the day they brought justice Iftikhar Mohamad Chaudhary back into power

  5. CJ does look like, no doubt, doing many positively good things, under his ‘sou moto’ powers, for the sake of social justice and fair-play in our deeply troubled society and country of course, with extraordinary courage and fortitude. But, still, there are reasons to believe that he is doing this ‘job’ only in selective manner and not with the ‘closed-eye’ attitude of equal treatment to all in society, making no discrimination on color,creed or sectarian basis or distinction. We hope and pray that the Chief Justice does justice to all Pakistanis as equal citizens as declared by the Quaid-e-Azam in his Constituent address of August 11, 1947.

  6. I am amazed how skilfully the writer and his doodh bahi hamid khan have tried to paint CJ as a legal saint and jack for all. It is Hamid Khan and associates (Cj’s lawyers brigade) who in my opinion are the power house behind CJ and his buddy associate’s partial/political decisions. Who can deny that this was CJ and his right wing army of lawyers who lead the violent political rallies under the banners of right wing political parties in the name of independence of judiciary and it was the same right wing political parties who in the past physically attacked SC, assaulted justices in the true spirit of justice and now they are singing independence of judiciary just because this particular CJ and judiciary is supposed to serve the interests of their political/religious masters. If the lawyers and justices are for party politics and promotion of right wing extremists agenda then one can only say good bye and good luck to our country’s judicial system and independence. Think about it, what if the right wing’s lawyers movement was not behind CJ, where his judicial cum political genius would have been. Do we remember, It was a powerful supporter and controller of CJ and lawyer’s movement who once said ” I swear upon God, after reinstatement of CJ every problem of Pakistan will be solved and our judiciary will be independent” O, yes. Pakistan has independent judiciary now, Arslan Malik’s and Quadris cases are under custody and in full control, CJ is standing like a rock for the safe guard of minority rights, there are no more targeted killings taking place and all the problems of Pakistan are history now. “Zameer-e-insaan agar sadaa day toe sadaaqatein aankhein kholtee hain aur qasre-e-insaaf bhee goonjtaa hai” (It takes conscience)

      • Nomi,
        Sorry to say but no one can touch Zardari, never will taht’s the way this country works man, you expect SC to challenged Zarsdari, Good Luck.

  7. Well, let chief justice look after rights of poor people who have no other platform to go, ahmadies are lucky they have whole west to hear their calls, they are sad occurings but such incidents are needed for settling more community people abroad, I know lot of community people who have benefited from those incidents, a blood of few brothers is making life easy for thousands of community followers

  8. The biggest achievement of CJ Chaudhry is to ensure that his son with a C-grade in F.Sc becomes billionaire in a few years with significant interests in the country’s telecom and construction sectors. After all in our society, a man’s success is measured by how successful his children are.

  9. “SPUREME COURT SHOUELD APOLOGIZE to Overseas Pakistanis”

    I condemn Supreme Court’s comments during the trial; judges disputed the LOYALTY of a Dual Nationals to their motherland and Country of Origin AND humiliating Overseas Pakistanis who still posses domicile of Origin as Pakistan.
    I am not the follower of Mr Qadri but his petition should have been dismissed without any character assassination of DUAL NATIONALS.
    From Birmingham – UK

  10. What I see is that he only deals with political matters, looks like there are no issues in front of SC except to deal with politicians. I think SC has double standards. I don’t see any thing good for people comes out of these dicisions from SC

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