Chief Justice Chaudhry gave President Musharraf’s 1999 coup legitimacy by swearing allegiance to military rule when other judges refused. However in the last few years Chaudhry and Musharraf’s relationship fell apart after Chaudhry ruled against several key court cases that Musharraf supported.
Chaudhry was expected to rule against General Musharraf’s right to run for president in the coming elections. He was charged with corruption and suspended by the President; an action recently ruled illegal by the Supreme Court. In this interview taped before the reinstatement, Munizae Jahangir analyses the current crisis. How vulnerable is Musharraf’s rule?
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Recently, when the Supreme Court justice was suspended, some people called it a kind of firing. It started with lawyers in the streets and then exploded. Why was this such a flash point and what did it represent?
MUNIZAE JAHANGIR (JOURNALIST): Well, first I would like to begin by saying that to the outsiders, Pakistan is very complex. But as an insider, it’s not so complex. Simply because we have seen, time and time again, and we have seen not just with Pakistan and Afghanistan but also with Latin America that America has always supported dictators that tow America’s line. So we first had, in the 80s and late 70s, we had General Zia-ul-Haq, who at that time strengthened not just Islamic forces within Pakistan but also in Afghanistan at the behest of the Americans. And now we have General Musharraf, who’s towing the enlightened moderation line that America [crosstalk]
JAY: Why do you go like that?
JAHANGIR: Well, because enlightened moderation coming from a dictator is a little funny, because enlightened moderation really means tolerance, and tolerance means accepting of all viewpoints, of political viewpoints, and President Musharraf has just done the opposite. He has banned the two most popular leaders in Pakistan, one of them being secular Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif. He would not allow them inside the country. For many years there was a ban on political activities in Pakistan. And the only party that was allowed to survive, allowed some sort of political space, was the MMA, the six-party religious alliance in Pakistan, which at that time was supporting President Musharraf, which allowed him to retain his post as chief of army staff and also as president. You know, through the years, every institution in Pakistan has been corroded away, whether that be political parties, student unions, pressure groups. And that creates an environment which is intolerant, and that creates an environment where only one party was allowed to play, which was the religious party.
JAY: Tell us the story. What happened with the chief justice? Give us the chronology of events and then what happened and why.
JAHANGIR: Well, the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, took the oath under President Musharraf when he took over power in a bloodless coup in 1999. And a lot of well-respected, even senior judges refused to take oath under President Musharraf, because they saw him as an illegal president, as a person who had usurped power.
JAY: So he gave legitimacy to Musharraf by taking the oath.
JAHANGIR: Yes, he did. He was considered Musharraf’s man. And through the years, we saw him passing legislation which became very unpopular with the Musharraf regime. Some of it was taking up basic human rights issues that challenge intelligence agency’s role in the war on terror.
JAY: What was an example of that?
JAHANGIR: For example, in Pakistan there are hundreds of people that have gone missing after 9/11. And they were all picked up under the terrorist act, prevention of terrorist act. Now, some of these people are alleged to be jihadis, meaning fighting the holy war. But others are simply Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, who want more provincial autonomy in their provinces. Others were journalists. Others were people who just didn’t get along with somebody in the intelligence agencies. So he took up these cases and started bringing in, started questioning the intelligence agencies in his court. That obviously did not go down with the Musharraf regime. Also, Musharraf was trying to privatize Pakistan’s steel mill, the biggest state machinery, the biggest factory that Pakistan has, and he ruled against it.
JAY: On what basis?
JAHANGIR: That they were on corruption charges, that there were omissions and commissions found in the deal. And the person who was pushing for it was in fact Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. So these were some of the verdicts that really upset the Musharraf regime, that sent signals that perhaps this chief justice would not toe the line as the government wanted him to.
JAY: And there was a lot at stake, ’cause there was a question of whether Musharraf would be allowed to run in the next presidential elections.
JAHANGIR: Exactly. In fact, between September 15 and October 15, Musharraf was trying to get himself reelected as president and chief of army staff. And the question of his very important constitutional issue would be whether he can retain the two posts of chief of army staff and president. Now, if this man, the chief justice, had gone against it, it would have been the unraveling of Musharraf’s hold on power.
JAY: I’ve heard it said that corruption pervades high Pakistani state in many areas. And in terms of launching a corruption charge against the chief justice, why that chief justice and not another? How persuaded were people that there was legitimate charges against the chief justice? Or they weren’t?
JAHANGIR: The thing is that there were thirty-odd complaints against other judges and chief justices as well. This was, I think, the thirty-third complaint, if I’m not wrong, or the thirty-second complaint. This was taken up and not the others. In fact, there is one chief justice, and there is also a charge of manslaughter against him—sorry, attempt to murder against him. So, obviously, that was not taken up. There are lots of corruption charges against sitting ministers. So how serious was the Musharraf regime by taking on corruption by dismissing this chief justice is something that people in Pakistan really do not believe in. They feel that this was– President Musharraf really removed the chief justice in order to make sure that there would be no constitutional barricades, no constitutional bars against him when he does go in for the question of getting himself reelected.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.