He changed Pakistan but couldn't change himself

Arguably, the most feared man in Pakistan has just given the gavel away.  This enunciation may run afoul of the commonly accepted view that it is the army chief who symbolizes that avatar.

But if you were to ask the Pakistan People's Party, the last ruling dispensation, or even Ashfaq Kayani, the recently retired general with the longest stint as army chief — outside of the Club of Self-Extended Guardians — chances are they will agree.

The trouble with analysing Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry is that you have to be dispassionate, but the man only arouses extreme reactions. But loved or loathed, he wasn't someone to trifle with whilst in the chair.

Not that he was short of contradictions — as manifest during his long innings but any decent stock-taking will ideally, be dissected in two parts: the Iftikhar Chaudhry of the pre-Musharraf adventure era and the one who dismissed the first commandment of the GHQ: thou shalt not say no to the generalissimo.

For all his shortcomings — to which I'll come shortly — you have to credit the man for the daredevilry one March afternoon that would turn the Pakistani power matrix on its head.

It was a stunning turnaround from a man who had taken oath on the Provisional Constitutional Order from General Musharraf and even validated his self-seeking Legal Framework Order!

Coerced into resigning — smack in the den of the powerful commando-general — Chaudhry, instead,  authored the definition of defiance with such tremolo that it left Pakistan breathless.

What, then, triggered the televised revolution were pictures of Chaudhry being pulled by his hair by an indulgent cop in an attempt to shove the top adjudicator in a car after he refused the official ride in favour of walking to the Supreme Court for the presidential reference against him.

It was the last straw that broke the camel's back. Pakistan just snapped. In hindsight, the overeager cop probably just cooked Musharraf's goose.

The commando-general did last a while after he sacked Chaudhry a second time in November of that tumultuous year — making a mockery of his earlier reinstatement, but slowly uniform-less Musharraf was becoming a lame duck.

Part two of the rousing revolt forced the hand of his successor, PPP's co-chairman Asif Zardari, next.
The deposed chief justice was back in business after it became apparent the assorted Long March comprising rambunctious lawyers and the PML-N-led opposition on Islamabad may sink the PPP government, especially after General Kayani weighed in on the restoration idea as the pragmatic course.

The second coming was always going to define Iftikhar Chaudhry and his legacy. Would he drink from this fount of power as a wise man to build an institution or go down the road of lesser mortals, unable to curb base tendencies?

He began well by setting aside Musharraf's unlawful acts and declaring null and void that obnoxious National Reconciliation Order the general had conjured up with PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto to quash corruption cases against her and other politicians as part of a future power-sharing deal.

Before long however, it became evident that a retribution streak had set in — first, Chaudhry presided over a bench that ordered the dismissal of all PCO judges who took oath from Musharraf after his-led judiciary was sacked in 2007 although he himself had been a PCO judge and had taken oath from the same general years earlier.

But these acts paled before the long drawn out chess "to get" President Zardari, the man who reneged on his promise to restore Chaudhry for a good year after his party returned to power.

This blinkered mindset — regardless of the merits of the eventually timed out case — only met stubborn resistance from the PPP government, which was consumed by its zeal to protect the party leader at any cost.

The judicial overreach was manifest in the wild chase of the so-called memo case, which really had no legal merit. Eventually, an irate Chaudhry-led bench sent the first unanimously elected prime minister home for refusing to write a letter to the Swiss authorities against his president.

The verdict sidestepped clearly defined constitutional parameters that gave the National Assembly speaker a decisive say.

This sat in stark contrast with the case of the former chief justice's son Arsalan, who was embroiled in a major scandal of dubious financial transactions, but was let off without thumbing down scrutiny.

Similarly, the Chaudhry-led bench not only had its way on the appointment of judges viz-a-viz the parliament but also refused to submit details of its finances to the house committee.

Self-serving measures apart, fine precedents were set in the conviction of the former army and ISI chiefs for manipulating the electoral process through graft in the Nineties and pursuance of the missing persons case against all odds.

So what is the take-home? While Iftikhar Chaudhry may have rung a paradigm shift in some ways, he failed to rise above his personality 'cult' — driven as he was by populism over substance. It is a story that leaves plenty of regret.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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Reader Comments

This is the best article I have read on the former chief justice. Most analyses I have come across have either favoured or castigated Iftikhar Chaudhary without being impartial. This article is refreshignly different. In my opinion, it praises the ex-CJ for the good he has done and critiques well the things he did not do or do well. Excellent!