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Friday, April 25, 2008

A sell-out in the making

ISLAMABAD: A tamed judiciary suiting the Presidency and the PPP-led government is being tailored to give the shock of their lives to those who simplistically took the Murree Declaration seriously and trusted the words of the top political leaders.Background interaction with some of those involved in negotiations on the constitutional package between the PPP and PML-N reveals that the constitutional amendments being negotiated, if finally approved by parliament, would clip the chief justice of Pakistan’s authority to constitute benches besides restricting his discretionary power to take suo moto notice on public interest litigation cases.All these proposed changes, critics say, are Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry-specific and are in complete violation of the Murree Declaration signed by the two parties on March 9, 2007. The PPP has made it clear that it would not restore the deposed judges unless the PML-N gives its nod to the proposed constitutional package. But it is shocking to learn that some of the top leaders in the PML-N too have become double-minded on the issue and are inclined to go for a compromise that would bring back the deposed judges but would make the superior judiciary weaker. “For the sake of the judges’ restoration, we have to go along with this compromise to a certain extent,” a PML-N leader said, adding that otherwise the party would have to quit the government. However PML-N chief Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif when contacted categorically said that any condition attached to the restoration of the deposed judiciary would not be acceptable to him. He assured that he would not let down the people who have pinned high expectations on the political leadership. Sources said that some of the PML-N leaders are prepared to fix the chief justice of Pakistan’s tenure to five years but the PPP, which was previously adamant to fix this tenure to three years, now insists on a four-year tenure. But Nawaz Sharif told this correspondent that any constitutional amendment or constitutional package has neither any linkage with the Murree Declaration nor would it be allowed. A three-year tenure would mean that deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry would retire in June 2008. In case of a four-year tenure he would continue till June 2009 while a five-year tenure would allow him to serve till June 2010. If he is restored and allowed to continue under the present conditions, the deposed chief justice would retire in June 2013 when he would turn 65.The two parties — the PPP and the PML-N — had committed in the Murree Declaration, signed on March 9, 2008, that all the deposed judges would be restored to their Nov 2, 2007 situation, which would allow Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to continue till 2013.Despite the signing of the Murree Declaration, the PPP remained ambiguous aboutl its commitment whereas the PML-N has been consistent in its stance. However, since the last meeting between Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, some PML-N leaders have also been shifting from the party’s clear stance and despite the fact that the Nawaz-league won their mandate on the sole promise of the restoration of the deposed judges.But the recipe for the judges’s restoration being discussed between the two parties presents a gloomy scenario for the future judiciary, which instead of being independent would be compliant towards the executive.The PPP is inclined to give deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry another year till June 2009 by limiting the CJ’s tenure to four years only. The proposal that has been discussed includes doing away with the CJ’s power to constitute benches of the SC for the hearing of cases. Instead of the CJ, it is proposed that a three-member committee of SC judges headed by the CJ should constitute the benches.The PPP is also fearful of the suo moto powers of the CJ. It wants a check on the CJ’s suo moto powers in a manner that the Supreme Court could not take notice of public interest litigation as was done by Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in the past. The deposed CJ while using his suo moto powers had given relief to thousands of citizens besides halting some highly controversial decisions of the government.It is also learnt that the PPP has clearly told the PML-N that it would not consider the restoration of Justice Javed Iqbal, who is the second most senior judge after Justice Iftikhar. The PPP sources said that Justice Javed Iqbal has lost his chance of reinstatement after accepting a government job following his Nov 3 deposition.The PPP sources say that in case of Justice Iftikhar’s reinstatement and his continuation till June 2009, the party desires to extend the retirement age of Supreme Court judges to 66 from the present 65. This change in retirement age of SC judges would allow the incumbent Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar to become CJ in June 2009 following the retirement of Justice Iftikhar. The incumbent CJ in the present conditions would retire in April 2009. If Justice Javed Iqbal is reinstated then there would be no chance for Justice Dogar to become the CJ even if Justice Iftikhar is retired in 2009.Some of the PML-N leaders, who are also included in the federal cabinet, have also become “pragmatic”. Now they say that it is important to become realistic instead of being idealistic. These PML-N leaders are of the view that in order to get dozens of deposed judges restored, the party would have to agree to certain “adverse” proposals from the other players of the game.The PPP has made it clear that it would not allow anyone to touch those pre-Nov 3 judiciary judges who took oath under General Musharraf’s PCO. However, the additional judges appointed later would be adjusted or removed on the basis of their performance.

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