Most objective observers believe that Justice Chaudhry is considered politicised not because of his speeches but due to the suo moto actions he took against powerful persons and business entities
With some modifications, the US envisioned-scenario is back in place. Whether or not the deposed judiciary, minus or plus Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, is reinstated, it is clear that the Pakistan People’s Party is leading the crusade to reincarnate the status quo of the Musharraf era, with similar power sharing arrangements.
The change of face at the top, Asif Ali Zardari replacing Gen Musharraf, will be cosmetic and the system will run as usual as long as a new people’s movement does not get in the way.
In a way, Zardari will be wielding more power because he will be leading a ‘King’s Party’ that is supposed to have grassroots support — most of its legislators are genuinely elected. Intimidated PPP flocks will rubber stamp Zardari’s wishes, like the PMLQ used to blindly validate Musharraf’s actions. As a matter of fact, Zardari will have more space to misuse his powers.
Gen Musharraf did not enjoy the luxury of dismissing assemblies without justifying dissolution in the Supreme Court; sooner or later he had to defend his actions in Court. However, if Zardari would like to do the same, he will simply ask his obedient prime minister to do the dirty work. Consequently, he will not be considered responsible for such an action in the eye of the law because the prime minister has the authority to ‘wrap up’ the legislative body.
Like Musharraf, Zardari has surrounded himself with unelectable elitists. It is noteworthy that most of the people included in Zardari’s kitchen cabinet representing the PPP are all unelectable. These are the people who have never contested an election even from their own neighbourhood. On the contrary, the PMLN’s policy making and media projection is undertaken by mostly elected and genuine representatives.
The PPP is following the Musharraf policy on the judiciary as well. In his latest statement, Zardari has claimed that Justice Chaudhry has become too politicised. This is a lame excuse to thwart Chaudhry’s reinstatement because, in public appearances and Bar associations, Justice Chaudhry has never indulged in party politics and has always kept himself to addressing the legal and constitutional issues. This is well-known; then how is Chaudhry politicised?
Most objective observers believe that Justice Chaudhry is considered politicised not because of his speeches but due to the suo moto actions he took against powerful persons and business entities. Since Zardari is representing most of the entities that were brought to justice by Chaudhry, he has declared Chaudhry ‘politicised’. If Chaudhry had continued rubber-stamping Musharraf’s orders and ignored the injustices committed against the people, he would not have been accused of being ‘politicised’.
Let us examine a few actions by Justice Chaudhry that are considered to be politicising the judiciary. Besides taking action against the sale of Pakistan Steel Mills at an unfair price, Chaudhry took suo moto action against cases of vani and karo kari in Sindh. Most of the accused in these cases were feudals from Sindh, some belonging to the PPP.
Zardari represents the landed aristocracy of Sindh and Western Punjab, which wants to retain its power. Chaudhry’s intervention in their affairs was not acceptable to these people. In essence, this is the politicisation Zardari is talking about.
Of course, in the ultimate analysis, intervening on the behalf of the haves or the have-nots is a political act: the question is on whose behalf. Pakistan’s judiciary has been used as an effective tool by the ruling classes. The rich and powerful could get away with any kind of crime. Chaudhry was the first to subvert this mode and became pro-active in delivering justice to the have-nots. This is why his defiance of Musharraf gained significance of historical proportions, elevating him to the level of ‘myth’.
The PMLN quickly grasped the significance of this myth and employed it to win an election despite its disarrayed organisational structure. Somehow, Nawaz Sharif, and to some extent the late Benazir Bhutto, realised that one can fight a person but not a myth. Therefore, despite immense pressure, Bhutto went to Chaudhry’s besieged home and declared him the genuine Chief Justice of Pakistan.
The graveyard is full of people who fought Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s myth. Zardari is undertaking a Quixotic task to fight the myth and the mass aspiration symbolised by and expressed through Justice Chaudhry. Ironically, Zardari has the same old tools that Gen Musharraf possessed. If Gen Musharraf could not succeed in maintaining the status quo, how will Zardari accomplish this impossible task?