ISLAMABAD, Nov 3: In what appeared to be a departure from his earlier stand, deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry dwelt on political issues for the first time on Monday and accused former president Pervez Musharraf and prime minister Shaukat Aziz of indulging in manoeuvrings for imposing the Nov 3, 2007, emergency rule which he described as a martial law meant only to curb the judiciary and the media.
“The Supreme Court’s throwing away of privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mills by an 11-member bench became the basis behind the estranged relationship with the rulers that led to my suspension, filing of a reference before the Supreme Judicial Council and eventually culminating in the imposition of Nov 3 martial law,” Justice Iftikhar said in his speech to a convention organised by the Rawalpindi High Court Bar Association to observe a black day on the first anniversary of the proclamation of emergency rule on the day last year.
Soon after the convention, a mammoth gathering of lawyers from different cities who had assembled at the high court, marched towards Islamabad in the manner similar to the June 14 long march when hundreds of thousands of lawyers and political activists had poured into the capital demanding reinstatement of the judges deposed by the former president.
Lawyers observed the black day all over the country and boycotted court proceedings, staged sit-ins on different important roads and held conventions in bar associations.
The deposed chief justice said he was privy to many developments, but would not disclose them because these were ‘classified’ and would only focus on events that had led to the Nov 3 emergency.
Justice Iftikhar received a warm welcome at the venue and was showered with rose petals. Lawyers raised anti-government slogans, including “Go Zardari go”.
Elaborate security arrangements were made and no-one was allowed to enter the venue without body search. Only a few senior PML-N leaders were allowed to attend the convention.
Although Justice Iftikhar accused three individuals of having played a role in the imposition of emergency, he named only Pervez Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz in his speech.
He said the Nov 3 action was different from the earlier three martial laws because it had only targeted the media and the judiciary.
Justice Iftikhar described the incumbent chief justice as “self-styled adjudicator” who led the bench that validated the Nov 3 proclamation.
He said he had been approached through common friends on a number of occasions, especially during the pendency of important constitutional cases like the privatisation of the Steel Mills, Benazir Bhutto’s petition against electoral rolls, a contempt of the court case for sending former prime minister Nawaz Sharif back to Jeddah and challenges to former president’s holding of two offices and his nomination as a candidate for the presidential elections.
Soon after the verdict in the Steel Mills case, Justice Iftikhar claimed, he had been approached by Shaukat Aziz and told that Pervez Musharraf was ‘very angry’ with him. “But I told the prime minister in very categorical terms that I had no business to appease anybody and had decided the case in accordance with the Constitution and the law.”
He said: “I could have been very comfortable by appeasing many as there were several occasions right from the Steel Mills case, but I chose to follow the dictates of my conscience, the rule of law and the Constitution, thus inviting the wrath of the rulers.”
Justice Iftikhar recalled that when he was hearing Benazir Bhutto’s case relating to the electoral rolls, he was told that he was interfering in ‘their’ jurisdiction whereas the entire matter concerned the Election Commission.
Similarly, he said, he had been approached again with a message to delay proceedings of the case challenging the nomination of Pervez Musharraf as the presidential candidate or change the composition of the bench hearing the matter.
He said he told the messenger in unequivocal terms that the integrity of judges on the bench was beyond doubt and that he could not interfere in the proceedings as it was against the ethics and norms of the judiciary. Besides he was not part of that bench.
“When the proceedings were near ending, a whispering campaign was also launched that either martial law or emergency plus would be imposed in the country.”
Before Nov 1, 2007, Justice Iftikhar said, he had been contacted again through some friends and was asked that he should either change the complexion of the bench or guarantee that the decision would not be against the former president.
The former president had been informed that the Supreme Court was not an ‘army regiment’ and decisions were taken on merit in accordance with the law and the Constitution, he added.
The deposed chief justice said he had been sent a message through a well-wisher that the situation in the country had become worse than during the Oct 12, 1999, military takeover and that it was up to him to save the situation in the interest of the country.
“The situation then was like a crossroad to me where the chief justice could have sold the entire court only for his personal gains,” Justice Iftikhar said, adding that he chose to uphold the independence of the judiciary even endangering his life.
Ali Ahmed Kurd, newly-elected President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, denounced the former president’s actions and criticised the elements who were creating hurdles in the way of restoration of the pre-Nov 3 judiciary.
Former SCBA president Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan said that constitutional packages or the Farooq Naek formula could not ensure independence of the judiciary. He said Justice Iftikhar would receive a prestigious medal from Harvard University and honorary membership from the New York Bar this month.