This column is dedicated to a great Indian named Justice Markandeya Katju.
It appears that by the time a judge becomes a member of the Supreme Court in Pakistan, his personality is elevated to the status of a saviour. People living in small cities, and suffering the tyranny of the local feudal aristocracy, want their sons to either join the police department or become a lawyer. Objective: To save the family from persecution. Once a lawyer, the chances are that the small-town intelligent boy will become a judge in the lower courts with the prospect of progressing to the high court and, if lucky, to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Unsurprisingly, the three lawyer-judges who reached the apex of the judiciary in Pakistan in recent times saw themselves as saviours in the Islamic sense: Caliphs wandering the streets and helping the poor and wronged. One such example of a chief justice of the supreme court gone “caliph” was Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry (2005-2013). His style was the suo motu method, a name given to public interest litigation in which the court itself becomes a litigant — after which you know who is likely to win the case.
The “Chaudhry court” was soon perceived as stepping into areas where it didn’t have a clue, and it started unilaterally rescinding international contracts and exposing the state to international penalties running into billions of dollars. After about 6,000 suo motu cases, Justice Chaudhry became too much to handle for the ruling General Pervez Musharraf who removed him forcibly — confirming Chaudhry’s status as a suo motu messiah. He was propped up as a hero of the people by the lawyers hitting the roads in protest in 2008, till he was reinstated and the general ousted from power.
Next came the SC chief justice Saqib Nisar (2016-2019) who said he wanted to be Baba Rahmat (benefactor of the poor in Punjabi folk) and started going around dispensing instant justice. Now, Pakistan had two Baba Rahmats competing in the goodness department, the other being Prime Minister Imran Khan. Justice Nisar got after the private sector medical colleges “robbing parents in the name of education and admission”. Then he pledged to build a dam that Pakistan was postponing for lack of money: He started going around hat-in-hand till he got nine billion rupees from suo motu-scared parties, while the dam actually required Rs 1,491 billion. The finale, after retirement, was his son’s wedding on which he spent Rs 1.5 crore, the bride’s dress reportedly being designed by the famous Indian designer Anita Dongre.
The third funny ex-SC judge is Javed Iqbal, currently heading the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which nabs politicians and keeps them jailed without accusing them of anything because the “burden of proof” is on the man in the NAB jug. Under Iqbal, the NAB is a dismal champion of injustice set up with intended malice.
Justice (retd) Iqbal, as NAB chief, got into a controversy with a Tayyaba Farooqi. Their “flirtatious” video was made public, much to the shame of Iqbal, who was supposed to be god-like in the midst of the sinful politicians he was punishing.
There was also the “caliphal” district and sessions judge, Justice Kazim Ali Malik, who unseated the speaker of the national assembly, Ayaz Sadiq, in 2015, and didn’t shy away from writing this “pious” judgment: “I have put following questions to my own conscience: 1) Am I created simply to keep on thinking about food? 2) Am I like that animal, which is tied down to a post and which thinks nothing but its fodder? 3) Am I like that uncontrolled beast which roams about and does nothing but eats its fill and does not know the purpose of life for which it is created? 4) Have I no divine religion, no conscience and fear of Allah? 5) Am I left absolutely free in this world without any check or control to do as I like? 6) Am I at liberty to stray, to wander away from the true path and roam about in the wilderness of greed and avarice?”
This article first appeared in the print edition on April 25 under the title “A tale of three judges”. The writer is contributing editor, Newsweek Pakistan.