POSTCARD USA: Iftikhar Chaudhry in America: Khalid Hasan.

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What has happened to us as a country when our prime minister is unable to understand and speak English properly and where the man who was our chief justice, and may once again occupy that high chair, is so palpably incompetent!

Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry returned home midweek, seen off by as many people as had received him, which says something for the appeal he holds for Pakistanis living abroad, because he left on a working day. Those who managed to get themselves to the John F Kennedy airport not only braved New York’s traffic and distances but also knocked off work, not as easy to do as it is in Pakistan.

America is the land of plenty, no doubt, but when it comes to holidays, leisure time and vacation days, this is not the place to be. There is little time off for working people and often absence from the workplace translates into losing that day’s wage or salary. Since the ultimate test of anything remains the ability to put one’s money where one’s mouth is, it will be fair to say that those who went to see off the defrocked chief justice did so because they believed to be doing the right thing.

The deposed judge was well and truly honoured for what those who honoured him see as his standing up for the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law. He was received by one of the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, a body whose nine members are remote, unapproachable and rarely to be seen or heard in public. Had it not been for the death that week of Chief Justice John Roberts’s father, he it was who was going to receive Chaudhry. Roberts, by the way, is an old-fashioned conservative, which is why he is where he is.

The New York Bar, the largest in the world, made Chaudhry its honorary member, something it does not do every day, and Harvard conferred the Medal of Freedom on him, making him the third recipient of the honour in its entire history. Just consider the company in which Chaudhry found himself placed: Justice Thurgood Marshall, whose name is synonymous with desegregation since he was the lawyer who argued and won the famous Brown vs Board of Education case, and the living legend, Nelson Mandela.

I will, however, be failing my duty were I after listing these honours and their significance, not put it on record that the deposed Pakistani chief justice’s performance as a public speaker left much to be desired. In fact, so poor it was that his listeners sat squirming in their seats at the Georgetown University’s law school as he began an interminable speech.

I am prepared to stand in court, even his court, and assert that while in his off the cuff, extempore remarks, there was hardly a sentence that could be said to be mistake-free, it was painful to hear him read from the prepared text. He did not seem to realise where a sentence began or ended or where emphasis was needed and where it was not. He just could not manage and everyone heaved a sigh of relief when he had finished.

What has happened to us as a country when our prime minister is unable to understand and speak English properly and where the man who was our chief justice, and may once again occupy that high chair, is so palpably incompetent! This is not to say that his heart is not in the right place and that he did not stand up to the imperious Gen. Musharraf, but only that he is so lacking in ability.

There was a time when we had judges of the calibre and eminence of Rashid, Munir, Kayani, Cornelius, Hamood-ur-Rehman, S A Rehman, Fazle Akbar and Shabbir, to name but a few, but what do we have today? The present occupant or maybe the word is occupier, of Chaudhry’s chair, one is told, is no better. The prepared texts of Chaudhry’s speeches in the United States, issued for some strange reason by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, are well-worded, but it is hard to believe that they are the same texts from which he read.

Much, I should add, has been made by our conspiracy theorists back home of the fact that Husain Haqqani, our man in Washington, sent his Consul General in New York to receive Chaudhry and another senior embassy official to greet him in Washington. One talk show Socrates said that it was clear the Americans had given the green light to Chaudhry’s reinstatement (as if it were the Americans who had him sent home first), otherwise how could the Pakistani safeer have given him “protocol”.

When I asked the ambassador, he replied that his yardstick was simple and he had not even felt the need to clear it with the government. Any Pakistani of note arriving in the United States should be extended all necessary courtesies. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was an important and eminent citizen of Pakistan, which was what had determined what our media have come to call “protocol”. My own view is that the mood in Islamabad on this issue being what it is, the ambassador may even be rapped on the knuckles for the courtesy shown to the deposed chief justice.

But let this matter be put aside till the “next hearing”, while I express my bewilderment at what our man at the United Nations, the redoubtable Munir Akram’s replacement, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, has been going around demanding. It was some days ago that he stated in a speech at the UN that Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, chief of army staff, should be made supreme commander of a joint force of Afghan, NATO and American troops to be deployed on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. His proposal was greeted with disbelief here, while the government back home refrained from comment.

Haroon did not seem to know that US forces do not serve under foreign command. As if once was not enough, in a meeting with the Belgian foreign minister, Pieter De Crem, this week, Haroon said, according to an official press release from his mission, “While discussing the situation in Afghanistan, Ambassador Haroon once again reiterated the need to create a Central Authority under the Command of Pakistan Army Chief to coordinate efforts to control the border by the NATO, Pakistani and other forces.”

I can only close this with a snatch from one of my old school teachers: Kahan se hum kahan tuk aa gayay hain.

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is khasan2@cox.net

link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008%5C11%5C30%5Cstory_30-11-2008_pg3_3

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