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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ardeshir Cowasjee: On Sharif League, PPP and Judiciary

TIME and time again one must retreat to the beginnings of the country and the exhortation of its founder and maker, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, that the first and paramount duty of any government is the imposition and maintenance of law and order.What he did not envisage was the deterioration of the judiciary of his country, which was firm and steadfast during the short time he had.

Contacts between Zardari and Sajjad continued and they met thrice at Zardari’s house in Islamabad when the offer of appointment as chief justice was raised again. On one occasion, Zardari, accompanied by Agha Rafiq Ahmad, “finally came out openly with the proposal that the prime minister was prepared to appoint me as the chief justice of Pakistan on the condition that I give my written resignation in advance, which would be used if I failed to oblige her. Obviously the letter was to be undated.” (Law Courts in a Glass House, Chief Justice (Retd) Sajjad Ali Shah, pub. OUP 2001).

There are many other anecdotes in the book which outline the constant contact between the judiciary and the governments in power, neither side at all respecting the concept of independence.

Come Nawaz Sharif as prime minister in 1977, with Sajjad Ali Shah as chief justice of Pakistan. A prickly person, not open to wheeling and dealing, he did not suit Sharif or his designs to assume full and complete power, transforming himself into an amir-ul-momineen and the country into his vision of a citadel of Islam. The tussle reached its peak in November 1997. Gohar Ayub Khan in his book, Glimpses into the Corridors of Power (OUP 2007) relates how on the 5th, when driving with Nawaz Sharif from the Assembly to his house, Sharif naively asked him : “Gohar Sahib, show me a way to arrest the chief justice and keep him in jail for a night.”

Later, on Nov 28, Sharif did the unthinkable. He arranged for a mob of his party storm troopers to physically invade the Supreme Court building at a time when its chief justice was sitting hearing a contempt of court case that had been brought against the prime minister and various others. Pakistan was disgraced in front of the world. Many of the attackers were identified, but, the judiciary being the judiciary, they got off lightly.


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