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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

People wait for SC ruling with bated breath

By Tariq Butt
ISLAMABAD: Everybody is keeping their fingers crossed and holding their breath, waiting for the landmark ruling to be handed down by the 13-judge full court on the presidential reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry any time.The judgment will mark the high point of the unprecedented drama that unfolded on March 9 when President General Pervez Musharraf filed a reference against the top judge, charging him with misuse of authority, etc.Will the verdict wrap up the intense judicial crisis or will it unfurl the beginning of the end? It is anybody's guess till the time the decision is announced. But the government is afraid at the moment.Many believe that different alarming events like the Lal Masjid-Jamia Hafsa operation and recent hike in frequency of suicide attacks on security forces have considerably overtaken the forthcoming result of the unparalleled judicial battle."The government is resigned to accept the decision whatever it would be as it wants to close this chapter now," a senior official told The News. However, the government is in a fix to deal with a situation where the reinstated Justice Chaudhry will start functioning as a fully effective chief justice. It will be in no position to stop him from working because of the court ruling even if it is a majority judgment, a constitutional expert, close to the government, told this correspondent. "I don' think they have any plan to obstruct Justice Chaudhry if he is restored." On Friday when the full court is likely to pronounce its decision, Musharraf would be out of the town. Also, at stake will be the professional acumen and wisdom of constitutional guru, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, who, while representing the president, will speak in the court for the first time on Wednesday.Many unique "firsts" were recorded since March 9. It was the first time in Pakistan's history that a chief justice was arraigned in such a way on charges of misuse of authority. His "no" to quit was exceptional because most superior court judges have generally been accused of docility and pliancy, always following the "Establishment's script". A predominant majority of people, hungry for hearing such refusal to submit, extended all-out support and solidarity to the chief justice for his action.Neither the president nor any of his key shrewd advisers or even Justice Chaudhry had thought that the reference would spawn a crisis of monumental nature. Everybody was surprised over the public backlash, especially the violent reaction of the lawyers' community. Lawyers were never so united.The chief justice did not confine his response to pressure and persuasions to give in, to saying no but he embarked upon a campaign to garner public support in his favour and against the presidential action. This was unique.Justice Chaudhry impliedly kept attacking the reference by speaking for the supremacy of the Constitution and the law during his addresses to bar bodies. But the severest harangue against Musharraf came from the chief justice's belligerent lawyers, who proliferated.Another "first" was the longest duration of the processions that Justice Chaudhry led to Lahore and some other cities. These were similar to popular political leaders' welcoming receptions of the past.It was again for the first time that superior court judges came under tremendous pressure from the lawyers, who continued to stress for a favourable judgment. The chief justice's visits to different cities were meant to achieve this purpose. He has been campaigning hard since March 9.Yet another "first" in this fiasco was registered in Karachi on black May 12 when Pakistan's business and commercial hub was held hostage and the state apparatus became a silent spectator to the massacre by the mafia. Since then, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is struggling hard to cope with the massive damage that it suffered because of the bloodletting.Another "first" that the judicial mess produced was that Musharraf never felt as vulnerable as he found himself after March 9. He had successfully faced colossal issues like the confinement of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's joining the anti-terror war, etc. But in the case of judicial crisis, he has been in a Catch-22 situation.His woes were intensified by grave bloomers that were committed by some of his inane advisers like the production of hefty material before the full court on the basis of which he had formed his opinion to file the reference. The court considered it so objectionable that the judges dismissed it after the government withdrew it.Most of the opposition parties did join the protests against the presidential reference but the lawyers left them far behind. Some political forces like the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) participated in the protests just to mark their presence, but the PPP never came out with whole-hearted support to the chief justice.

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