The taste of power is addictive. Being in power convinces a person of his/her own greatness. The exercise of power stops the clock of history, and we can only truly judge powerful individuals once their seat of authority has expired. The giving up of power is not only difficult, but also disillusioning. Its removal brings a fear of mortality. And the realization of this mortality – along with all weaknesses that human mortality entails – disorients a person in a manner that augments the craving of power once again.

While in power, it is easy to regard it with disdain. It is easier still to require other people to abide by standards of morality and the law. But once out of power, it becomes difficult to swear fidelity to those same standards, and to willing part with self-deluding notions of grandeur.

It is easy for people, in positions of authority, to give sermons about how everyone should abide by the mandate of law. The true measure of such powerful individuals, however, can only be judged once, away from seat of authority, they muster the humility to embrace the spirit of their own past rhetoric.

In line with this ideal, the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan, in April of last year, took a Suo-Moto notice (on a note from the Registrar) of security protocols and benefits being extended to former Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, and the Minister of Interior. As it transpired, in the concluding days of the PPP government, the then Prime Minister issued an order to indefinitely extend security protocol and perks to select outgoing political office-holders (including Mr. Rehman Malik). A five-member bench of the honorable apex Court, presided over by the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, chastised government officials (specifically the then secretary Interior and IG Islamabad) for providing protocol to former government functionaries. While the government tried to hide behind an excuse of imminent and ongoing security threats to such individuals, the honorable Court rightly observed that providing such elaborate security measures (indefinitely) to individuals who are no longer government functionaries, violates Article 4, 9, 24 and 25 of the Constitution, and amounts to an unjustifiable burden on the National Exchequer. The then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was quoted (in the newspapers) as saying that while some people in this country do have water to drink or “tablet for headache”, how can such security expenditures (for people who are no longer government functionaries) be allowed!

Observations of the honorable Court, and specifically the comments of the former Chief Justice, were correct. Neither the Constitution, nor the law, nor any principle of natural justice, allows for such illegal excesses.

The importance of this principle, however, has not suddenly changed upon the retirement of the Chief Justice (R) Chauhdhry.

Nonetheless, as reported by Dawn on the 23rd of December (after the retirement of Iftikhar Chaudhry), the Islamabad Police had been compelled to write a letter to the Ministry of Interior, seeking clarification of guidelines and SOPs for VVIP security, when the retired Chief Justice sought route security for his son-in-law from CJP’s official residence to the Islamabad Airport. Which provision of the Constitution justified this request, however, is unclear.

To make matters worse, in the aftermath of retirement, Chief Justice (R) Iftikhar Chaudhry’s splendor of a 27-car cavalcade was (blasphemously?) reduced to mere 16 security personnel and one bullet-proof car. Allegedly, the said bulletproof car was not to the liking of the retired Chief Justice, and there have been some administrative delays in the provision of some of these security personnel (only 6 to 8 have been provided). As a result, a petition was filed before the honorable Islamabad High Court, by one Sheikh Ahsanud Din, seeking directions to the government that a larger contingent of security be provided to the retired Chief Justice. It was argued before the IHC that since the retired Chief Justice has “decided many cases against the power wielding forces of the country”, and now plans on addressing bar associations around the country, “it is his right” that he be provided extra security (for an indefinite period of time). What provision of law this “right” stems from, what part of the Constitution provides protocol (as desired) to a retired judge, and what principle of natural justice mandates that the National Exchequer be burdened with the same, has not been pointed out or argued!

The IHC, while listening to this petition, directed the state functionaries to provide the retired judge with his desired extent of protocol and security. In so doing, the honorable court specifically noted that a person “who abrogated the Constitution” (Musharraf) was being given a more pompous protection than someone who “protected” the Constitution.

Apparently, the logic here is that two wrongs would make a right.

This episode, while still unfolding, brings to light the frail humanity and brittle ego of even the most celebrated amongst us. There is no Constitutional provision that comes to the rescue of retired Iftikhar Chauhdry’s case. There is no provision of law – none at all – that requires the government to provide elaborate protocol and security details, along with bullet-proof cars, to retired Chief Justices. There is no administrative order, regulation, or SOP that justifies this demand. And in case an order, regulation or even a legislation is passed requiring such measures, it would be unconstitutional in spirit, amounting to an unreasonable burdening of the National Exchequer and for being discriminatory in nature (against the mandate of Article 25 of the Constitution).

The only possible justification available to the (now retired) Iftikhar Chaudhry, in support of this ostentatious demand, is the threat of grave and imminent danger. The same plea, let us be reminded, that was taken by Mr. Rehman Malik and other outgoing political office holders last year to justify their continued and indefinite security protocol.

Relying on such a plea, unsupported by any provision of the Constitution or law, would at the very least be disingenuous and hypocritical (going against the sermons delivered by the honourable Supreme Court in April last year). It would tantamount to asserting that two different standards be employed in the application and implementation of the law – one for the detested personalities of the past (Rehman Malik), and a completely different one for our perceived national heroes (Iftikhar Chaudhry). If this demand of Chief Justice (R) Iftikhar Chaudhry is accepted by the court, how then will we ever be able to assert that the law of this land treats all citizens equally, and that no one is above the strict application of our laws.

Giving up power is difficult. Coming to terms with it is, frequently, impossible. But the legacy of Chief Justice (R) Iftikhar Chaudhry will find itself in tatters in case a vain desire to hold on to earlier pageantry results in the contravention of his lofty rhetoric of the past. From a seat of power, it is easy to tell other people to abide by the modesty of law. The real test, of submitting oneself to the same humility, begins now.

To those advising the retired Chief Justice: in your hero-worship, please resist the temptation to create double standards in law, which, inevitably, will do more harm than benefit to the legacy of Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He  has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.

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