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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Judges conundrum
Contrary to the general expectation that the PPP and the PML-N will be able to resolve the issue of judges in accordance with their much-trumpeted Bhurban Declaration, inexplicable delay in the materialisation of their promise has raised many eyebrows. Not a day goes by without reports telling a curious nation that many formulas are being worked out to settle the issue to the satisfaction of all the parties in the ruling coalition. The spokesmen of the PPP and the PML-N are putting every kind of spin to mask the fault-lines threatening to unravel the alliance. In papering over the reality that the PPP and the PML-N are struggling to keep their coalition intact by finding some middle ground to resolve their conflict over the judges, the spokesmen are clearly underestimating the wisdom of masses. The plain fact is that the PPP and the PML-N have yet to settle their difference over the issue of judicial/constitutional reforms that the former wants to introduce to ensure enduring independence of the judiciary.As also articulated by Mr Asif Ali Zardari, who has his own complaints against the deposed judges, mostly arising from their alleged failure to give justice to Mr Zardari when he was booked under various charges, the judicial/constitutional reforms include reducing the tenure of Chief Justice (CJ) and increasing the number of judges in the Supreme Court (SC). The package of reforms also includes dubbing a verdict of court declaring an unconstitutional takeover ‘treason’. All are fine points, yet on the count of reducing the tenure of CJ and increasing the number of judges in the SC, the package appears to be motivated more by expediency rather than a genuine wish to reform the judiciary. The lawyers’ community, alarmed by the procrastination on display, has taken umbrage at the reforms, demanding that the issue of judges’ restoration be solved through an executive order before introducing any package. Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, president of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), is particularly peeved at the formulas being churned out, including the one relating to cutting the tenure of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, commonly known as ‘minus-one formula’. The so-called ‘minus-one’, if agreed upon, will remove the deposed CJ from the scene after some time following the restoration of judges. This formula is indeed person-specific and smacks of involvement of personal egos. This is uncalled for because the issue at hand lies more in the realm of institutional sanctity.Mr Zardari may be reluctant to back an eager Mian Nawaz Sharif on the issue of judges and his legal aide, Mr Farooq Naek, may have his own legal arguments to defy the call for restoration of judges without any conditions, but what cannot be ignored is that the people in general are keen to have the judiciary restored to the pre-emergency position. The foot-dragging by the PPP is creating an impression of its lending support to an increasingly isolated presidency in line with the policy of patching up with the establishment. This would, ultimately, redound to the political advantage of the PML-N, which is far more forthcoming and steadfast in its commitment to restore the sacked judges. Those opposed to the judges’ restoration can take advantage of the uncertainty shrouding the ruling coalition. One lawyer has already approached the Islamabad High Court asking it to restrain the parliament from interfering in the matter of deposed judges. The presidential legal wizards are also active. The PPP and the PML-N must, therefore, move in earnest to solve the conundrum of deposed judges without further loss of time.

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