The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) has undergone a complete transformation while being headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary. The present SC bears no resemblance with its past self. Several instances in the country’s history highlight the helplessness of the courts in the face of powerful institutions. But, all that changed with the CJP’s refusal to comply with President Musharraf’s demands. Unnerved from the unanticipated opposition from a traditionally ‘co-operative’ judiciary, Mr Musharraf committed perhaps the biggest blunder of his tenure by imposing an emergency rule in 2007, sending judges home. The deposed CJ didn’t take it lying down. A nationwide movement commenced. Lawyers and thousands of members of the civil society engaged in an intense struggle against the then mighty status-quo forces to reinstate their “Chief Saab”.

They persevered. The judges were at last restored, and a judicial revolution of sorts followed. Sou-moto actions became a matter of daily routine, and continue till this very day. A key institution had realised the power it possessed, and didn’t shy away from showing it wherever it felt necessary. Senior bureaucrats, government ministers, even prime ministers, found themselves being hauled in to answer the court’s questions which arose from its ever-increasing interest in various affairs of country. Even an elected Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, was sent home for his failure to implement court orders. Although there is much criticism over CJP’s “judicial activism”, it is also true that there are many who heavily rely on it for the enforcement of law and dispensation of justice. As only 6 working days remain before the CJP retires on December 11, the missing persons case appears to be his final, toughest test.

The federal government and intelligence agencies desperately await his retirement, hoping to find an ‘easier to deal with’ successor heading the bench. The court is insistent that certain 35 missing persons be presented before it, and those detaining them habitually appear just as adamant to say no. The case has been going on since 21 months. Several orders have gone unnoticed. Ultimatums and warnings have failed to do the trick. But, the SC is unwilling to back off. The case is being heard on a daily basis, and the nature of the remarks by the judges during these proceedings reveals their frustration, as well as their resolve. Will the CJ be able to bring the untouchables in the ambit of the constitution for the first time since Pakistan’s inception? Will he be able to deliver justice for the families of the missing who look to him as their only hope? If he does, there should be no doubt that this last achievement will be cemented in the country’s history as a national service. The CJ must make sure that those who refuse to acknowledge the rule of law learn that there are 8,640 minutes in just 6 days -- and he intends to make each one count. Godspeed and good luck, Chief.