November 2013 saw General Kayani’s end of his second term as the Chief of the Pakistan Army. He had succeeded a failed military adventurer. He did his job well. What earned him deep appreciation was his self-restraint and the cooperation he extended to an elected civilian government. More than once, he demonstrated his acceptance of supremacy of the political government and the parliamentary resolutions. He was willing to go along with the decision of the political parties to open a dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban. (The government, however, failed to avail of this unanimous move to address terrorism.) The General will be remembered for the part he played in letting a smooth transition take place from one elected government to another.

December witnessed the retirement of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. He was twice dismissed by the usurper Army chief, General Parvez Musharraf. The General in the first instance, tried to browbeat him. He summoned him and asked him to resign. The judge refused to quit. Soon he found himself living under house arrest. This arbitrary act on the part of Musharraf generated an outburst of protest on the part of lawyers all over the country. They rose as one man and took to protest meetings and rallies. They were joined by the civil society and vociferously supported by the media. Politicians too jumped in and the Chief Justice and his colleagues found themselves restored. Later a panicked military president once again suspended the Constitution and dismissed the Chief Justice and a number of judges, replacing them with stooge judges of his own choice. Overnight, he found himself facing the wrath of the people and parliament. He had to quit and leave the country. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry came back to his position. After elections, a new civilian government had taken over led by Zardari who had become the President of Pakistan. He was unhappy with Justice Chaudhry who was known as an independent judge and was determined to take up all major cases of corruption especially those related to NRO. Mr. Zardari resisted the restoration of the judges but the Long March of lawyers, led by Nawaz Sharif forced him to bring the deposed judges to the Supreme Court.

Here was the opportunity for the Judiciary to discharge its responsibilities independently departing from the servile tradition of kowtowing before the military dictators. In the past, every time there was a military takeover, it was legitimized by the Supreme Court. Justice Chaudhry broke this tradition. A new era of independent senior judges had begun.

Almost simultaneously, independent media too emerged and was beginning to flex its muscles. When the Chief Justice took serious notice of corruption and misuse of authority by the government departments and agencies, the media particularly the TV channels stood firmly with the court. The NRO was annulled. President Zardari enjoyed constitutional impunity from prosecution. His legal aides and puppet prime ministers refused to obey the court directions about cases pending at a Swiss Court in Geneva. The prime minister was convicted for contempt of court and dismissed.

A host of other cases of corruption in which government was involved in various ways were taken up and action ordered including jailing of culprits and recovery of billions of rupees. Other cases too where government had misused its powers and had taken anti-people decisions were taken up, many a time, suo motu. The Chief Justice and other judges were keen to ensure that the fundamental rights of the people were not violated.

At the same time, a lobby of certain elements linked to the central government started creating an impression that the Chief Justice and his senior colleagues were going beyond their jurisdiction and were biased against the ruling political party and its office-bearers.

It was also said that the Chief Justice failed to reform the lower judiciary which is as corrupt as ever. Again it has been remarked that little was done by the Supreme Court for the poor and the disadvantaged. This is not quite correct as a number of suo motu cases were taken up by the Chief Justice on the basis of newspaper/television reports and quickly disposed of, for the good of the ordinary people who otherwise would have suffered silently.  Regarding relief for the poor, a highly commendable step taken by the Supreme Court was the setting up of the Human Rights Cell under which tens of thousands of grievances of poor people were attended to speedily and considerable relief provided.

Yes there have been cases where the Supreme Court was seen exceeding the limits of its jurisdiction and trespassing into the executive or the legislative domains. This was possibly more due to a passion for putting things right rather than waning to go beyond the Court’s bailiwick.

If one goes by the resolve of the Court to seek to hold the corrupt and the wrong doers to account and provide relief to the people, one may be inclined to condone the “trespass”, incurred. When there is so much wrong and nobody is doing anything to put things right the Court’s endeavors to do the needful need to be appreciated.

A watchful media especially the television talk shows ruthlessly took the Court to task for excesses and aberrations. One may here refer to Justice Chaudhry’s son’s case which somehow has not been dealt with thoroughly. The criticism leveled by the media and Justice Iftikhar’s detractors is not entirely invalid.

When a country is beset with so much evil and injustice, corruption oppression and lawlessness, anyone wanting to take the culprits to task may lose focus, a little or more, here and there. The work done by Chief Justice merits a lot of praise. The way for instance he pursued the issue of missing persons and turmoil in Karachi certainly redounds to his credit.

An appropriate way to conclude this column would be to let the outgoing Chief Justice speak for himself and to see what his successor has to say about him.

“Now, no state functionary can dare support or provide protection to the unconstitutional actions of a dictator in future......if the executive fails to fulfill its duty and due to lapses on its part the fundamental rights are threatened, the judiciary has a duty to act”. Said Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry at the full court reference held in his honour on December 11. He further said that it was mandated for the protection of the public against the violation of their fundamental rights, abuse of power and arbitrariness.

And this is what the CJP-designate Tassaduq Hussain Jillani observed at the full court reference: The chief justice forced “us to rethink and re-evaluate the fundamental questions regarding constitutionalism, law and judicial role and its relationship with the state, society and individuals”.

“The restoration of the chief justice on July 17, 2007, was not glorification or reinstatement of an individual but rather a vindication of judges’ sacred oath of office. This spirit, this resolve and determination to abide by the terms of oath will continue to inspire us for the times to come”.     

n    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst