March 11, 2007Foreign Affairs

Judge and the jackboot

Nothing comes in the way of Musharraf’s political survival. Not least the rule of law.

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

The actual story is simple. A military dictator wanted to get rid of a judge who began to take his duties a little too seriously. But this story is set in Gen Musharraf’s Pakistan, so a whole lot of farce masquerading as constitutional propriety is in order. The manner in which Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Chief Justice of Pakistan until last Friday, was rendered non-functional” has thrown the Pakistani legal fraternity, political establishment and news media into a frenzy of activity. The chances are, all this will be to little effect.

The facts are plain enough. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was summoned to Musharraf’s camp office” in Army House, where he was presented with a list of charges and asked to resign. The judge refused, despite being held there for five hours without being allowed to make phone calls. Musharraf then activated his plan B. This involved him, by virtue of his being president, making a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council—a body of senior judges—requiring it to conduct a hearing on the charges against the chief justice. Interestingly a new acting chief justice was appointed and quickly sworn in by a brother judge.

Meanwhile, not only was Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry prevented from returning to the Supreme Court building, but is being held under virtual house arrest at his official residence—no phone calls, and no visitors.

Update:

…the (telephone line) at the chief justice’s residence, and his and his family’s mobile phone numbers, had been disconnected. His television was not working and he was even denied copies of daily newspapers. “The CJP is held in incommunicado,” Khan said after the half-hour meeting. [DT]

The Supreme Judicial Council is to hear his case on March 13th. No one knows what the charges are, for the contents of the reference are secret. But don’t hold your breath on what the Supreme Judicial Council will decide.

As an aside, despite the fate of his predecessors and the sombreness of the situation, Justice Javed Iqbal, the newly appointed acting chief justice was reported to have left the chamber beaming’ after being sworn in.

So what should one make of all this? Well, that Musharraf does not allow anything to get in the way of his own political survival. Pakistani constitutions can be abridged by doctrines of necessity and amended by legal framework orders. Outspoken political leaders can be thrown into prison for speaking out against the army. Rebellious local leaders can be bumped off. And uppity constitutional officials can be sacked at will (or whim). After all this is the man who mounted a coup in order to save his skin.

So what makes the Indian government so sure that Gen Musharraf will keep his end of bargains that he is only half-making?



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