Monday, March 16, 2009

Conflicting Emotions

I was jolted out of bed at 5:52 a.m. when a cousin called to inform me that the Chief Justice was being restored. I told him this was all a bloody drama and went back to sleep.

And yet by 8:45 I was in my car driving to the High Court feeling excited and nervous. The first thing that caught my eye as I entered the High Court compound was the large convoy of news vans decked out with their satellite uplinks. (I wonder what they’re going to do after this whole issue is settled, there’s going to be a whole lot of air time to fill.)

A large number of lawyers had gathered at the Court, but the scene did not in any way resemble the afra tafri of Lahore, Pindi and Multan. For one thing, I didn’t see a singe political activist. I had half expected MQM and PPP workers to come out and ‘celebrate’ the restoration of the judges, which, as our PM explained has been a cause that the government has always championed.

The sentiment held by most lawyers was a mixture of joy and cautious optimism – we’re after all we’re all cynical enough to believe that anything can happen between now and the 21st. Nothing much happened at the court, there were the mandatory slogans, speeches and cheers. But being part of the group and experiencing first-hand the culmination of a movement that has few parallels in the history of this nation did leave me feeling happy and proud.

I just wished it had been for someone other than the Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry (JIMC). I don’t like the man. Here’s why:- (1) JIMC is a poor judge; and (2) he is a political opportunist.

1. The Love Child of Rhadamanthys, Minos and Aeacus
He Ain't

There is almost universal acknowledgment amongst lawyers that he’s not an intellectual tour de force. His career as a legal practitioner was largely unimpressive and as a judge there’s nothing that set him apart, except for his ability to be at the right ability to take ‘suo moto action.’ I can understand that the path to judiciary is a crooked one and there are various abilities that one must have apart from having a good legal mind but JIMC's legal skills appear to me to be quite limited. JIMC just doesn’t appear to have the acumen to understand subtle nuances of the law or the ability to grasp the weight of his own decisions.

He is also a judge easily won over by the cult of personality so if a lawyer was well known he was sure to be respected, if he wasn’t (or if JIMC decided that he didn’t like someone) he would be publicly derided.

It’s important to look at one of the defining case of JIMC’s career, the Steel Mills Privatisaion case. His demeanor in court during the entire case, from what I’ve heard, was outright inappropriate and unprofessional; from the outset it was blatant to all and sundry that JIMC had made up his mind before the case had even been heard. In fact, he appears to have made it clear during the proceedings that he would continue to oppose the privatization of all ‘national assets’ in the future.

Moreover, the case also highlighted JIMC’s desire to oversimplify things . JIMC readily bought into the character attack on Arif Habib, and even Aqeel Karim Dhedi, who had nothing to do with case but like Arif Habib was characterized as this big evil stockbroker (I’m surprised they didn’t call them Jews!). This just wasn’t something JIMC should have even entertained, especially as this was a suo moto action.

Having read the order I also seriously doubt that JIMC understood the structuring of the deal at all but by applying flawed reasoning and delivering an order he’s muddied the water a whole lot. (You can read the whole order here, if you’re corporate lawyer / investment banker I would especially recommend pages 73 and 74.)

Now, I’m not saying that the decision was wrong just that the reasoning was wrong, it was too simplistic and aspects of the order have the ability of being easily exploited in the future.

This case could have been a debate about how Pakistan could reach a balance between public good and private right, a balance between engaging in the wider international economic world while protecting the interests of the Pakistani people. JIMC was in a position to at least start this debate and reflect on the issue with intellectual vigour so that lawyers over the years could build upon these foundations. He didn’t.

His conclusions were hardly any different than those reached by the common man, his intellectual acumen hardly reaching a level higher than that of a talk show pundit. Worse still was that he relished the attention he got from ‘serving and obeying the people,’ and this is the role, i.e. public appeasement, that he took most seriously. This brings me to my second point.

2. The Eternal Crowd Pleaser

The privatization of the Steel Mills received extensive media coverage and was presented to the public as a pay day for the then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the issue quickly became embedded in public psyche. The complexity of the deal was largely ignored, and as were vital points on the and in the opinion of the public the deal was rotten. The media attempted to focus the entirety of its coverage on the relationship between the bidders and Shaukat Aziz – for the media it appears that this was the first instance that they’d heard of where a prime minister, an ex-banker no less, was friends with a businessman!

JIMC readily bought into this (hence the suo moto action). Never for a moment did it appear that JIMC would do anything that the crowd didn’t like. And that in essence has been the trait that defines his career.

The years is 1989, Pakistanis have just spent a decade under military rule and have welcomed politicians with open arms. The Government of Baluchistan decides to choose a new Attorney General, JIMC. The AG post is one of the surest ways of becoming a High Court Judge, all you have to do is not piss off the government and they’ll reward you with a place on the bench. Of course becoming the AG isn’t that easy, it involves having just the right combination of friends who are lawyers and friends who are in the government. By 1990, under the same government, JIMC had been appointed a judge of the BHC at the young age of 42.

A decade later, an unpopular civilian politician is ousted by a popular military one, JIMC is one of the first people to take an oath under the newly imposed PCO. General Musharraf’s rule, and appointment as ‘Chief Executive’ is validated and JIMC jumps the seniority queue over the judges who either didn’t take an oath or were late in doing so. A decade after becoming a judge of the BHC, JIMC found himself in the Supreme Court. With 13 years to go before retirement, JIMC was guaranteed to become the CJ, all he had to do was play by the book.

Once there, he realized that he could play to a greater audience and would certainly have to do so if he wanted to acquire more fame and power, there was no higher office remaining. You know the rest. It takes skill and luck to be on the ‘right side of history’ and JIMC had both.

--- --- --- ---

And so here we are. I’m glad history was made, and to quote Bubs: "A relatively widespread movement has been able to force a dictator from office and peacefully achieve its aims."

There were political victories along the way as well. After the horrible events of May 12, MQM and PPP patched things up and that can only mean good news for the citizens of Karachi. The power of the media was unleashed and it is unlikely that it will be so easily repealed – now if only they can learn how to control themselves and inculcate a more ethical code of conduct.


And finally, the contrast between the hiding Imran Khan and the parading Nawaz Sharif highlighted yet again the shallowness of the great Khan’s fan base.


Jiyala said...

good stuff. very measured and non-emotional. me likes. but u don't have to be a pussy when talking about the mqm. they are the most violent party in parliament and they burnt some lawyers alive. savage. i am urdu speaking from hyderabad if you want to know.

lala pathan said...

haha WELL SAID jiyala......i have always wondered with the five rupees ppl...u guys for some reason shut up or don't use the same language to describe MQM as u do with others...corrupt party has brought karachi to its knees wth in 20 years and you have a prblm with every one else that includes JIMC...atleast the man is honest...thats 1 in all the rest..i am happy about what happened..hopefully now we will say good bye to ZARDARI , ALTAF , NAWAZ E.T.C.E.T.C. INSHALLAH..oh and i am born and raised in karachi..there is not 1 good thing about MQM ...

Anonymous said...

I agree that history is made in Pakistan.A country which was accustomed to more "forceful" actions saw for the first time massive popular protest against the government. It is very inspiring and refreshing to see that the people stood up for their rights. "Lawyers' march" was indeed a great affirmation of the freedom of human rights..

Tan said...

Makes me wonder, Pakistanis can do this to get Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry reinstated yet we can not do something similar to tackle this jihadism which is threatening the very stability of the country.

Farooq said...

Good stuff, AKS.

I was pretty confused about how to react to the events of monday morning. On the one hand, it was heartening to see Zardari cave to a non-violent, civil-minded movement - a movement whose sole objective has been the restoration of the rule of law. On the other hand, its always been disheartening to see that the rule of law has been symbolised by the restoriation of Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Its one of the reasons ive always been sceptical of the lawyer's movement. And that is compounded by the fact that their chief patron is Nawaz, and the first quarter of Ahsan's post above fully explains why my suspicions are well-founded.

I really dont want to be cynical at this stage. Even though I never much cared for the lawyer's movement, I did believe in what they represented (rule of law, not restoration of chaudhry). For now, I think I'll choose to be optimistic. There are definetly a lot of egos present in the movement but there are also too many smart people involved for things to just go back to the way they were. If that does happen, at least i'll be proved right about the superficial nature of the lawyers in this movement.

Anonymous said...

This is a very elitist post. Trying to look for a wendell holmes who can stand up to a room full of khakis is like looking for Megan Fox in Kemari. Get real guys before you lose all credibility.