Saturday February 13 – The Chief Justice of Pakistan defied Presidential orders through a suo moto action against the Presidential notification for appointment of certain judges. Chief Justice, in a rare nightly emergency session, formed a three members bench that suspended two recommendations for judges’ appointment by the President. The matter will be heard by a larger bench on February 18th.
The dust from the politically motivated NRO verdict hasn’t even settled, that the Chief Justice had other political plans to benefit his right-wing judicio-politico mafia.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had reportedly recommended appointing the recently retired Justice Ramday as an ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court, and to elevate Justice Saqib Nisar, the second most senior judge in the Lahore High Court, to the apex court. [Dawn – By Nasir Iqbal]
Bypassing the traditions and the precedence in the Al-Jihad case, the Chief Justice tried to retain his fellow – a retiring – Supreme Court Judge. Along with appointing another superior justice in an irregular manner, by skipping the seniority principle and not elevating Justice Khwaja Sharif the CJ of Lahore High Court.
It is believed that Chief Justice of Pakistan and his right-wing political cronies wanted to keep Khwaja Sharif in Punjab for greater political agendas and judicial favors in the High Court. The problem arose when this recommendation was rejected by President Zardari as he wanted all judicial appointments in accordance to the constitution and follow the principles of seniority.
This Judicio-Politico Mafia has always existed in Pakistan. Nadeem F. Paracha, a Dawn News columnist, tries to explain this judicial right-wing nexus in his new blog post:
Explaining this idiosyncrasy, some go on to suggest that this is because those who have been turned into ‘judicial heroes’ symbolise the rise of a New Right in Pakistan. Or that this is a brand of right-wing politics that has little to do with the military anymore, and more with groupings within judicial activism and the media, which have expanded the scope of right-wing politics in Pakistan. [Dawn Blog]
The whole conflict apparently revolves around a single judge – Justice Khwaja Sharif – who seems to have close ties to the opposition right-wing party Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). Thus the reaction displayed by the PML-N, to the current political stand-off between the President and the Chief Justice, is of no surprise. Similar to calling Benazir Bhutto a “threat to security” to undermine her governments in the 90s, Nawaz Sharif has termed President Zardari as “a threat to democracy.” Apparently Nawaz was expressing his anger over Presidents attempt at moving Khwaja Sharif from the Lahore High Court, as a Dawn News article stated:
Nawaz Sharif has lashed out against President Zardari. The president is the ‘biggest threat to democracy’ in Mr Sharif’s reckoning and the move to replace Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khwaja Sharif was unconstitutional. [Dawn]
It is the politics that is prevailing, not the sense, and certainly not the law as Cyril Almeida – Dawn News columnist – wrote:
… what’s so great about the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, Khwaja Sharif, that he must at all costs stay in Punjab to oversee the judiciary there? And, if you think about it, it’s nothing short of remarkable that CJ Iftikhar apparently believes that Justice Saqib Nisar is qualified to be a justice of the Supreme Court — the highest court of the land — but not the chief justice of a provincial high court. [Dawn]
Similar concerns were raised by many renowned names in the judicial community, including Ali Ahmad Kurd a very stringent supporter of the Chief Justice Iftikhar, who:
expressed disappointment over the events and deplored that it appeared as Justice Khawaja had become the most important individual in the country. “We the people of the Pakistan want to see constitution, democracy, parliament as well as the judiciary flourished in the country,” he said adding the seniority principle settled in the 1996 Al-Jihad Trust should be honoured at all cost. [Dawn – By Nasir Iqbal]
Contrary to the obvious, this is purely a political conflict, with its core in Punjab’s power politics. This is where Justice Khawaja Sharif becomes the most important man in the country, as he makes 28 of his own politically motivated judicial recommendations for the Lahore High Court, only to be scrutinized by the Governor Punjab.
Governor Punjab has also informed the president in his summary out of 28 persons recommended by CJ LHC, five persons Shahid Karim, Mamoon Rashid Sheikh, Waqar Hassan Mir, Ms Gulzar Butt; and Mian Mahmood advocate are directly or indirectly affiliated with the chamber of LHC CJ. Khawaja Mohammad Sharif. Similarly, four persons Mian Shahid Iqbal, Mohammad Farrukh Irfan Khan, Shaukat Umar Peerzada, and Anwer Bhour advocates are reported to be closely associated with the Hamid Khan Group. [The News]
Muslim League Nawaz, the ruling party in Punjab, always had issues with Governor Taseer of Peoples Party. He is seen as a great impediment to the unchecked authority of the Nawaz League in Punjab. The rift between the Governor and the PML-N widened, when he became a hurdle in the way of PML-N’s politically motivated judicial appointments. The PML-N’s Punjab government used all its influence over the institutions and its political muscle to get Justice Khawaja’s recommended judges appointed at all cost. The Governor, ignoring all pressures, decided to accept 19 out of the 28 appointments. Stating merit and the reputation of those persons as the reason of rejection.
The Governor has objected that the CJ LHC had evidently ignored certain judicial officers bypassing the principle of seniority and legitimate expectancy standing in his letter that “either their performance is not up to mark or they don’t enjoy good reputation”. [The News]
It seems as PML-N and justice Khawaja has not given up and want to continue strengthening their mafia to establish a stronger rift over the Lahore High Court and the Punjab province as a whole. It is this mafia plus the intelligence establishment that allowed Muslim League to become a challenging political force for the Peoples Party. Without this mafia and the support of establishment the Nawaz League cannot manage to win more than a third of Punjab in the polls.
If this political crisis escalates, the sufferer will be no other than the people and the democracy of Pakistan. Advocate Athar Minallah, the spokesperson of the Chief Justice during the two years long lawyers struggle, also believe that:
the development was infact a gift to the non democratic forces and to those who were sitting on the fence and would like to see confrontation between state institutions that could only cause irreparable loss to the country. [Dawn – By Nasir Iqbal]
We might be repeating the history as a senior lawyer Dr Khalid Ranjha said a “vacuum is being deliberately created” to pave the way for third party interference. [Daily Times] An interference that Pakistan can’t allow nor afford at this time.