What the others say…
SouthAsia asked a number of people how Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry performed in office. Here are some responses:
Malik Amin Aslam, Central Vice President, PTI
After the historic restoration of the deposed judges, the renewed tenure of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry started with euphoric expectations coming at the heels of a successful lawyers’ movement. In hindsight, the CJ was quite successful in raising judicial activism to new heights, especially using the suo moto tool for addressing issues of public interest, such as rising inflation, escalation of utility prices, exposing and arresting white collar mega-corruption scandals and trying to solve the mystery behind "missing persons" in Pakistan.
However, this same public interest tool became controversial when its "selective" application came into play. The electoral fraud of 2013 was unveiled by NADRA checks and then blatantly endorsed by the ECP, which publicly acknowledged the failure of the vote-checking system. Unfortunately, the CJ's carte blanche suo moto powers failed to take legal cognizance and judicial action where it was most wanted. This was the "mother of all public interest cases" which the CJ chose to ignore and that will, undoubtedly, cast a shadow on his, otherwise, useful tenure.
Shahzad Chaudhry, Air Vice Marshal (R)
The tenure of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will be remembered for the excessive use of the suo moto provision. He will also be remembered for having said no to a military government’s desire that he step down. Iftikhar Chaudhry was a complex person and therefore ran a controversial term. He rebounded from an absolutely normal stature to a larger-than-life figure when the lawyers’ community stood behind him and led a countrywide campaign to reinstate him after he was removed following his refusal to step down.
Some of his decisions were poor and interfered in the executive’s functioning. One such decision was the halting of privatization of some PSEs. These have since gobbled billions as they remain irrecoverable and continue to perform badly. His intervention in fixing prices of some commodities indicated a poor understanding of market forces and the mechanics of administration.
He overtly sought recognition. He desired the best cars and a protocol where he would always be saluted by uniformed personnel. He betrayed a strange fetish for the uniform and was upset when a uniformed person would appear before him in civilian clothes. He seemed to have a similar fetish for power and continued to challenge those in authority as an implicit indication of his even greater power over them as a chief justice. He sent packing a prime minister, a NAB chairman and many more. He is also said to have a liking for the media and made observations and remarks when he knew they would make news.
Shamshad Ahmad, Former Foreign Secretary
No matter what his detractors say, Iftikhar Chaudhry’s tenure as Chief Justice was a high watermark in our checkered judicial history. It marked the dawn of an independent judiciary in Pakistan, where constitutions have been violated in letter and spirit with a 'custom-made' judiciary always available to sanctify military coups.
With its restoration, the newly independent judiciary was seen by the nation as a ray of hope and redemption, and since then it has indeed been repaying some of its old debts owed to the nation since the 1950s. It has buried the infamous "doctrine of necessity" forever, and now seeks
to uphold the rule of law and constitutional supremacy in the country.
But are our political leaders ready to reverse the galling tide of history? Do they now subscribe to any value system? Do they have the will or the capacity to function democratically and constitutionally? Have they learnt any lessons from their own failures that invariably led to successive political breakdowns and long spells of military rule? What our political gnomes today forget is that an independent judiciary is their strength, not weakness. They must respect its verdicts and enforce the rule of law, before it is too late.
Basil Nabi Malik, Attorney at Law
The tenure of the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is punctuated by milestones but also marred by controversies. He played a pivotal role in establishing an independent judiciary, expanding the powers of the court, holding political and military officials to task and championing human rights.
However, the episode involving his son raises many unanswered questions. No significant efforts were made to better the lower judiciary or strengthen the tools holding judges accountable for their actions.
Saeed Khalid, Former Ambassador
Chief Justice Chaudhry's great contribution was by way of challenging the arbitrariness of the executive branch. General Musharraf perceived this attitude as a direct threat to his authority. In suspending the CJ, Musharraf underestimated the adversary but also ignored another change that had come about: the explosion of private channels. Live TV coverage had greatly strengthened the exercise of freedom of expression in the country. Musharraf would pay for his errors, eventually leaving office. The CJ's return was one of the most important events in our history.
There is no doubt that through Chaudhry's reinstatement the judiciary's stature has gone up. However, that has not assured provision of justice to ordinary citizens. There are signs that the new CJ would be more focused on dispensing adal to the people rather than making headlines by challenging the executive on a daily basis.
Dr. Ikramul Haq, Advocate, Supreme Court
The emphatic ‘NO’ by Iftikhar Chaudhry to General Musharraf, a laudable act, changed the entire judicial landscape of our country. On November 3, 2007, Musharraf imposed a judiciary-specific martial law and for judges it became a matter of survival. The people’s struggle from March 9, 2007 to July 20, 2007 and from November 3, 2007 to March 16, 2009, culminated in the second restitution of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan in March 2009.
As March 2009 brought “justice” for Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Supreme Court, as an institution, also conveyed a change in categorical terms – no longer a defender of military takeovers. Iftikhar Chaudhry soon became controversial for what many allege to be an “abuse” of suo moto powers that caused panic in many circles. The PPP government alleged transgression of constitutional limits whereas CJ Chaudhry was adamant that if people’s rights were violated, the court had no option but to interfere. History will judge Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, but the fact remains that as a chief justice he did little to implement the much-needed reform agenda that would remove snags in a judicial system that is hopelessly redundant, painfully unproductive and marred by inefficiency and inordinate delays.