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Lawyers’ Iftikhar: A Messiah Or A Pawn?


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Chaudhry Iftikhar, the former chief justice, was used and thrown away when the PPP needed the NRO. Nawaz Sharif used him against Musharraf and forgot him later. Now all the enemies of President Zardari have suddenly remembered Iftikhar Chaudhry, the perpetual fall guy. But I am more stunned at some Pakistanis who think they’ll have free judiciary if Mr. Iftikhar is ‘restored’. Well, fat chance. Here’s why--

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—It’s almost two years. Iftikhar Chaudhry, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, has not been restored to his old job. And chances are he will never be, at least not in any real sense. But meanwhile, his ‘cause’ – better known as the ‘lawyers’ movement’ – has single-handedly resulted in a list of unintended side effects:

  1. His cause helped Dr. Condi Rice and her lieutenant, Richard Boucher, twist the arm of former President Pervez Musharraf to give better terms and concessions to the late Benazir Bhutto [and Asif Zardari] on the ‘deal’ that helped them return to power.

  1. In this sense, Justice Iftikhar became one of the causes of NRO, the so-called reconciliation bill that whitewashed the corruption money of Pakistani politicians. He can oppose the bill all he wants, but the fact is that the lawyers’ movement created enough panic and stir in the country to scare a weak ruler into submission to Ms. Bhutto and the Americans. In the NRO case, Justice Iftikhar is as guilty as President Musharraf. In fact, Chaudhry Iftikhar bears the sin of knowing the alternative to Musharraf and yet he went full speed ahead in destabilizing the Pakistani system.

  1. Justice Iftikhar’s cause helped turn 2007 into the most dangerous year in Pakistani history, when several internal and external players came together – maybe by chance like the lawyers movement – to bring Pakistan down on its knees, destroy the promising gains in the economy, and make Pakistan the butt of international jokes as a country whose people simply don’t know how to run it. And why did Iftikhar Chaudhry and Aitzaz Ahsan do this? Answer: for the dubious and questionable goal of removing Mr. Musharraf. Granted that the former president had become unpopular and had ruined it for himself, yet the price the country is paying for removing him – in the shape of Zardari-Gilani government – paid to remove him is too high.

  1. Mr. Iftikhar’s cause helped Nawaz Sharif play a sad version of ‘revenge politics’. Both Mr. Iftikhar Chaudhry and Mr. Nawaz Sharif became so blinded by their personal hatred that they let Mr. Asif Zardari become a President, adding one more blot to the dirty record of Pakistani politics.

  1. Mr. Iftikhar Chaudhry’s supporters proudly repeat at every occasion that that he played the biggest role in removing Mr. Musharraf from power. The right thing for them to say, and more accurate, would be: ‘Mr. Iftikhar Chaudhry played the biggest role in bringing Mr. Zardari to power.’ That’s the bitter truth.

Justice Chaudhry was a compromised judge, who took oath of office from a military dictator, stabbing other more honest judges in the back to secure his job. His supporters conveniently forget this fact. It is as if saying no to Musharraf’s demand for his resignation absolved Mr. Chaudhry of any and all accountability.

It was Mr. Iftikhar’s stubborn nature, and the natural urge to cling to his cushy job that made Mr. Chaudhry a hero. Principles came later when he suddenly found himself the darling of all those who opposed Mr. Musharraf.

In fact, with hindsight, it wouldn’t be too much to say that the honorable judge proved to be a fool in the end. First he was fooled by Aitzaz Ahsan, his politician-lawyer. Mr. Ahsan, deliberately or unknowingly, handed the street movement on a golden platter to Benazir Bhutto, Richard Boucher and Condi Rice to use it to extract NRO, the so-called reconciliation bill.

And now, once again, when another government needs to be destabilized, that of Mr. Zardari’s, Iftikhar Chaudhry and his movement is the tool of choice for all those who hate Mr. Zardari, including Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who used the lawyers to get back at Musharraf and will now use the lawyers to get back at Zardari.

And just like the first time, the politicians will throw away Iftikhar Chaudhry and the lawyers just like used napkins when the political scores are settled.

But no, tell this to Mr. Chaudhry or Aitzaz Ahsan or the lawyers and you will hear an earful about justice and how the country can’t live without it.

The only thing they forget is that the Pakistani judiciary, by and large, has been a compromised judiciary not because of dictators or anything else, but because of that disease that afflicts all third-world judicial systems: financial corruption.

Until bribes remain the order of the day, there cannot be a free judiciary in Pakistan. The corrupt politicians, feudal lords and the vested interest, who have enough money to buy judges, will ensure that the practice never dies.

After all, this is a country that rewards financial corruption with NROs. What stupid Pakistani judge won’t take the money, either before or after the ‘restoration’ of Iftikhar Chaudhry?

It is false and misleading to say that his ‘restoration’ will ensure free judiciary. Mr. Iftikhar’s ‘restoration’ will ensure only one thing: Revenge against Zardari. That’s the only real use left for Justice Chaudhry. Ask Nawaz Sharif and he’ll tell you. And if this is the real cause, then hurray to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.