An evening with politicians-like judges

By Malik Siraj Akbar

So Chief Justice Ifthakar Mohammad Chaudhary and Vice President of Supreme Court Bar Amanullah Kanrani are friends again. In the past, people used to admit the unpredictable attitude of the politicians by saying that politics was the art of hammering out solutions. Therefore, there were no permanent friends or enemies in politics. A good politician, they said, was someone who could resolve issues by negotiations. This trend has gradually trickled down to the lawyers. Many of us already know that the judiciary, comprising of the judges and the lawyers, has emerged as a strong stakeholder in the country’s polity in the aftermath of the successful lawyers’ movement that led to the reinstatement of Justice Chaudhary as the chief justice of Pakistan.

Just like the politicians who hold grand public rallies, the lawyers and judges too assemble in grand gatherings under varying pretexts just to look prominent like the media-savvy politicians. They call the media, flaunt over their heroic contributions in the judicial movement, count with each other the number of interviews they give to the private news channels, enjoy gala dinner, criticize the government policies, shed tears over lack of coordination among government institutions and reaffirm their self-certified indispensability for the democratic system in the country.

When they behave like politicians, they end up becoming public figures. In response, people naturally raise fingers at them. Ask a poor politician how big a heart it requires to digest criticism, allegations, abuses, charges, mockery and everything else except praise. Very similar to a strike call given by an opposition party on the eve of the arrival of the head of the government in a city in any normal democracy, judges in today’s reconfigured political arena of Pakistan also fall subject of such humiliating treatment.

Look at Quetta as one such classic example where the Chief Justice of Pakistan arrived the other day to preside over the National Judicial Commission meeting. Ideally, a Chief Justice, or any judge for that matter, has to be an unseen, untouched and unapproachable person. In our case, he is the hero of a successful judicial movement who assumes to have millions of admirers across the country. Therefore, he desperately feels the need to speak in front of flashing cameras while posing as a re-born Jinnah of Pakistan.

If you have millions of admirers then you should naturally not complain about a few hundred detractors as well. Call it the contempt of court or not, the Baloch lawyers refused to welcome the visiting Chief Justice of Pakistan in his native Quetta city. The Baloch Bar Association, the representative platform of Baloch lawyers, observed a complete boycott of the hero Chief Justice’s arrival in the Baloch capital and decided to boycott the courts as well to lodge a strident protest against the non-recovery of what they enumerate as thousands of missing Baloch persons.

The Baloch lawyers, headed by Sadiq Raisani, complain that the chief justice has not played his due role in resurfacing the missing Baloch people in spite of being restored to his prestigious position. The situation in Balochistan has worsened to such an extent that doctors are busy protesting the disappearance of their colleagues while students are engaged in organizing more hunger strike camps to demand the recovery of their fellow comrades. That is not over. Mothers and sisters, such as that of Baloch Students Organization (BSO) leader Zakir Majeed’s, are similarly busy frantically expostulating the extra-judicial disappearance of their sons and brothers.

I admit deviating from the first paragraph of my article. Let’s get back to it. Amanullah Kanrani surprises me. Not that he is not generous enough to host huge dinners but because of his variable political and legal stance. A man who no longer wishes to speak about his political past (he was the sole spokesman of late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti until his death), Kanrani was one of the happiest men in Balochistan over the removal of Justice Ifthakar Chaudhary by former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

Last night Kanrani hosted a gala dinner the honor of the Chief Justice of Pakistan which abruptly took me back to an earlier interview I had had with him to seek his views on the suspension of Justice Chaudhary. Published in Daily Times on May 11, 2007 under the title of Baloch indifference towards CJP’s suspension, I quoted Kanrani as saying: “Baloch have lost faith in the judiciary as it has failed to play its due role in preventing mass violation of human rights in the province by the security forces in Balochistan… the Baloch see the current turmoil as the culmination of the “judiciary-military nexus”.

He went on to say, “Around 4,000 Baloch students and political activists have gone missing at the hands of state intelligence agencies. A full-fledged military operation was carried out in the province and the towering leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was brutally killed by the state. But Justice Chaudhry remained supportive to the policies of the president (Pervez Musharraf). Why should Baloch support him when he is in trouble?”

The report continued: “Kanrani said Justice Chaudhary did not deserve the sympathies of the Baloch people because he was the first and the only chief justice in the history of the country who “willingly” went to Army House to present his performance report to a “uniformed resident”.”

Kanrani’s tone during last night’s dinner was much different from what he had to say three years back. He reminded the Chief Justice of Pakistan that he had been suspended by Musharraf due to proactive role in recovering the missing Baloch persons. “On October 10, 2007, several missing Baloch persons were recovered due to your (Chief Justice’s) efforts,” Kanrani recalled, “ because you had given these state institutions a deadline to recover the missing persons. Bu you and the superior judiciary had to pay a heavy price for this.” I sincerely wonder who these missing persons were who were recovered during Justice Chaudhary’s previous or current stint? As a journalist regularly covering Balochistan, I have at least not come across any one such “missing person” who was released on the instructions of the judiciary.

Kanrani can at best explain about these recovered missing persons and the factors that have suddenly made Justice Chaudhary a hero for him. What has changed in Balochistan, or say in rest of the country, following the restoration of the judiciary? While I was endlessly pondering over this question, I got the best reply from the speech of Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif.
“May Allah give guidance to the rulers. It is unfair to whisk away people who have not committed any crimes.” The judges are praying. Let’s join them.

This article originally appeared in The Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English newspaper

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