By Aijaz Ahmed
The contempt notices to PPP Sindh leaders, Taj Haider and Sharjeel Memon by Supreme Court of Pakistan are indicative of future scenario in which the ongoing tussle between the government and the judiciary is gradually being turned into a bout between the PPP as a political party and the Judiciary as an institution. Thus the future and intensity of the row will be decided with Supreme Court’s treatment to the reference the government is sending to SC to reopen Bhutto case to seek apex court’s verdict on the case that the PPP termed judicial murder of its founder.
The strained PPP-Judiciary relations have a historic back ground: the foundation of this love-hate relationship was first laid when the Judiciary became subservient to General Zia and hanged a visionary leader like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on very weak legal grounds to appease its master, observe senator Maula Bux Chandio, a diehard PPP worker from Sindh. Besides independent political and legal observers, Justice (retd) Nasim Hassan Shah, member of the Supreme Court Bench that endorsed death sentence to ZAB, had himself admitted that the endorsement was made on the whim and will of general Zia.
|Presidency in Islamabad|
Apart from ZAB case, there is a long list of PPP's complaints against judiciary, injustice to Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, different application of law in the same incidents with the prime ministers from Lahore and Larkana, settings of court hearings, character assassinations of BB and party leadership, cases against Asif Ali Zardari and even against Begum Nusrat Bhutto are few examples in this regard, Mr. Chandio further maintained.
In view of the bitter historical facts and strained relations between the two, PPP’s role in restoration of judiciary after March 2007 was a big U-turn. PPP sacrificed 39 lives in Karachi and 17 in Islamabad during the movement for restoration of judiciary and release of Justice Iftikhar Ch and other brother judges, he added. The first hour of PPP’s present government witnessed how the judges were released, the barriers around their houses were removed, despite a delay under pressure from different stakeholders, the deposed judges got their salaries through discretionary powers of the prime minister, said another party leader on condition of anonymity adding that the same judiciary curtailed those discretionary powers, which were used to pay heavy amount to them.
The governments’ positive attitude towards apex court judges and respect to the judiciary continued even after the Attorney General Latif Khosa and present law minister Babar Awan were intimidated in Haris Steel case. Mr. Khosa had to resign from his office on charges, which are yet to be proved, while Babar Awan proved all allegations wrong, the PPP leader added. But the government raised salaries, perks and privileges of higher judiciary many times on the recommendation of chief justice, many appointments were made on his will including that of Justice Khalil Ramday, which was in sheer violation of judicial policy announced by judiciary itself, he maintained.
The government however keeps awaiting even a single gesture from judiciary. Contrarily, NRO case taken up. The case was not an issue; the government on the signals sent decided to maintain good relations with apex court and submitted in the court room that the Ordinance may be declared void-ab initio, but the court decided to prolong the process and go into nitty-gritty. Even a person like Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim was angry on the proceedings. ‘There is no point to prolong the proceedings when the government was willing to declare the Ordinance void-ab initio’, he commented when court started detailed hearing of NRO case last year. The government during the proceedings was utterly sure that the proceedings would remain in limits, but the remarks by Justice Ramday and others pointing fingers towards president Zardari was like declaring him corrupt without a case. Justice Ramday went to the extant of very personal remarks like “apnay client (Asif Zardari) se kaho k Swiss banks main deposited 60 million dollars return karay aur apni bhi jan churai aur hamari bhi choray”. (Tell your client, Asif Zardari to return 60 million dollars deposited with Swiss banks & get himself off the hook and save us from bother).
These remarks indicated that the court is siding with the elements intending to give Mr. Zardari a bad name. Further moving in the same direction, an action was ordered against Justice Qayum, the former Attorney General who wrote letter to Swiss authorities for withdrawal of cases against Mr. Zardari on the verbal instruction of the then President General Musharraf but without formal approval of the federal cabinet. No action was however, directed against former Attorney General Ch. Farooq who himself wrote letter to Swiss authorities for legal assistance in the same cases without any order or formal approval of the cabinet of Mian Nawaz Sharif. He happened to be elder brother of Justice Ramday and this is the point of a major clash. Subsequently the statements of Khwaja Sharif, other remarks of Justice Ramday and CJP, and other brother judges further fueled the fire. The onslaught did not stopped there. The apex court and Lahore High Court at a very high pace took certain cases against the federal government and adverse judgments were passed, but there was no follow up in Punjab Bank case which was under hearing and an anti Shahbaz Sharif statement was recorded by Hamesh Khan, former president of the Bank who is under NAB custody for months and has been brought back from United States.
In these circumstances, Justice Ramday’s appointment and pressure exerted for appointments of judges in High Courts on which government had serious reservations had increased the tensions. The issue was resolved with the intervention of Ch Aitzaz, but later he was kept out of the circle close to CJP and Hamid Khan, Akram Ch and Qazi Anwar filled his place. Meanwhile former DG FIA Tariq Khosa was promoted by the government as secretary and thus had to be removed from the post. The government’s action was taken as an adverse step along with its refusal to write to Swiss authorities for reopening of the cases. The court ordered action with reference to his association with Steel Mills case but government refused. He was again ordered to be appointed investigation officer in Punjab Bank scandal, which was again regretted by the government. Moreover 18th amendment case decided in a particular manner and then the decision of parliamentary committee on judges appointment turned down, certain contract appointments, extension in service particularly of DG FIA and few other officers of Sindh Police were terminated by Supreme Court while all decisions were taken under the same discretionary powers of the PM which were used to pay salaries to deposed judges before restoration. However, the same principle was not applied on Justice Ramday. CJP recommended his name again for appointment as adhoc judge, but Supreme Court Bar Association strongly objected. This principle is also not applied on Registrar Supreme Court who is on a two years extension!
The rapid suo-moto notices on National Insurance Company and Haj Scams in this scenario proved to be lethal for the government-judiciary relationship, and even the son of the prime minister was contaminated. Zafar Qureshi, Director Punjab region has been given license to kill, former Haj Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi is arrested without being accused in the main FIR, simultaneously Moonis Elahi is also arrested in National Insurance Company case and his name was also not included in the FIR. Legal circles are questioning the cases, their pace, direction, way of proceedings, tone and the remarks. Zafar Qureshi is apparently settling his personal score and grievances that he had with the present set up regarding his transfer and removal of his elder brother Ismail Qureshi from the post of Secretary Establishment. No complaint against him is being entertained at any legal forum, and he is moving in a way, which does not suite to the government. Many government and allied party MNAs are scared of him, he caused damage to political deal between government and judiciary, he managed disassociation of DG FIA from major inquiries and a campaign being hatched by politician of a particular group without any evidence so far.
Indeed, FIA is an attached department of the Interior Ministry but no order of the ministry is entertained at FIA nowadays and thus the organization is enjoying the role of state with in state. The inquiries and court remarks on them spark fire in the government camps, and in this scenario a decision against Syed Deedar Hussain Shah triggered volcano in Sindh and a complete strike observed on PPP Sindh chapter’s call. The court moved rapidly and contempt notices were issued while n suo moto notice was taken against the reaction on court decision in Raymond Davis case.
Taj Haider and Sharjeel Memon will appear in the court on first April along with number of part colleagues. Whatever the decision may be, or whether or not they tender an apology but the move has brought relationship at point of no return between the largest political party of the country and the most sacred institution. PPP considers the court decision and all steps part of a game and also believes that the judiciary sides with rival PML-N or other parties having presence in Punjab and this is the alarming situation. What would be the result only time will tell, but sense of deprivation is getting stronger and PPP workers and supporters started believing that judiciary is not friendly rather is adversary towards the party and this is the real danger.