Today marked the retirement of the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Chaudhry has played a central role in many of Pakistan’s most dramatic developments in the past eight years during which he served on the court. AP has a capsule summary of some of those events:
He was appointed chief justice in 2005 and attracted national prominence two years later, when he was sacked by then-President Pervez Musharraf. He was reinstated in 2009 after a protest movement led by the nation’s lawyers.
I must confess to having been turned into a huge fan of Pakistan’s lawyers during this time. The images of hordes of lawyers clad in black suits and marching in support of the rule of law led to many fantasies of such things happening here in the US. It took two years of demonstrations and the election of a new government after Musharraf was forced to step down, but Chaudhry eventually was released from detention and returned to his spot on the bench.
It should be noted that current Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif played a large role in the final movement that procured Chaudhry’s release. The first four minutes of this story from Al Jazeera provide a good summary of those momentous developments:
Chaudhry will be a very tough act to follow.
While the US enters its eleventh year of maintaining the Guantanamo Prison that Barack Obama pledged to close by the end of 2009, Pakistan now finds itself in the glare of international condemnation for its own practice of indefinite detention without charges. Just last month, Amnesty International released a report (pdf) in which they pointed out widespread torture and abuse in Pakistan’s tribal areas while prisoners are held by the military and intelligence agency without charges:
Amnesty International research shows that, rather than seeking to apply and strengthen the human rights safeguards of Pakistan’s ordinary criminal justice system in the Tribal Areas, the Pakistani authorities are applying old and new security laws that authorise prolonged, arbitrary, preventive detention by the Armed Forces, and breach international human rights law. The Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations 2011 (AACPR) in particular, along with the century-old Frontier Crimes Regulation 1901 (FCR),5 provide a framework for widespread human rights violations to occur with impunity.
Both the AACPR and FCR come into play in a case argued today in Pakistan’s Supreme Court. From Reuters, we learn that although this case addresses just 11 men (now 7 due to four deaths, more on that later), the government now admits that over 700 are being held without charges:
Pakistan is holding 700 suspected Islamist militants without charge under a law that has come under fire from human rights groups, its attorney general said on Thursday.
The admission marked the first time that the strategic U.S. ally detailed how many militants it is holding in the tribal areas of the northwest under the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulations law.
“There is a military operation in Waziristan. Under the law we cannot try these 700 people, nor can we release them, unless the operation is over,” Attorney General Irfan Qadir told the Supreme Court, referring to a tribal area near the Afghan border.
The Reuters report, however, seems to miss the mark on several important issues in this story. First, Reuters says the case is about “seven suspected militants held without charge since May 2010″. Both Dawn and the Express Tribune point out in their stories today that the case originated with 11 men. Here is how Dawn describes that part of the background:
The 11 prisoners in the said case went missing from the gate of Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail on May 29, 2010 after they had been acquitted of terrorism charges pertaining to their alleged involvement in the October 2009 attacks on the Army General Headquarters and the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) Hamza Camp in the garrison town.
Later, four of the 11 died in mysterious circumstances. The Supreme Court forced the ISI and military intelligence to produce the remaining seven men in court on February 13 — an unprecedented move. The men, all in deteriorating health, were sent to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar on court orders. After five of them recovered, they were shifted to an internment centre in Parachinar.
The other point that Reuters seems to miss comes when Reuters says of the men that the “Supreme Court is calling for their release” while it appears on closer reading of the Pakistani press that the “release” is from military detention into the hands of civilian authorities who would then try the men. Here is the Express Tribune: Continue reading
For the first time in its 65 year history, Pakistan is poised to see an elected government fully complete its term in March. With chaos erupting on several fronts, though, the path toward electing a new government appears to be full of obstacles.
Last week saw sectarian bombings kill 96 Shi’ites in Quetta on Thursday alone, and tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets, refusing to bury the dead until Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf came to Quetta and agreed to fire the entire provincial government, as it was suspected of being involved in sectarian violence.
Ashraf finds himself at the center of a controversy, as well. The Pakistan Supreme Court issued a warrant for his arrest today in a long-simmering scandal dating back to when Ashraf was minister of water and power before he became Prime Minister. From Dawn:
The prime minister has been accused of receiving kickbacks and commission in the RPPs [Rental Power Projects] case as minister for water and power.
In the case, nine RPPs firms were accused of receiving more than Rs22 billion [1 R = .01 US $] as a mobilisation advance from the government to commission the projects but most of them did not set up their plants and a few of them installed them but with inordinate delay.
From the Reuters article on today’s developments in Pakistan, we have a description of how the election process is supposed to proceed:
The government and opposition are poised to start negotiating the formation of a caretaker administration to oversee the run-up to the polls as soon as parliament is dissolved, which is due to happen in March. An election date has yet to be announced.
The New York Times article on developments informs us that the elections are required to take place within 60 days of the end of the term for the parliament. Complicating the process immensely though, is the sudden appearance of cleric Tahir ul Qadri, who has returned to Pakistan from Canada to lead massive protests demanding that the government resign immediately, instead of in March. The Times explains that some see the hand of the military behind Qadri:
The court order came as an enigmatic preacher turned politician, Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri, addressed thousands of supporters outside Parliament and repeated calls for the government’s ouster. In earlier speeches, he said that a caretaker administration led by technocrats should take its place.
The confluence of the two events stoked growing speculation that Pakistan’s powerful military was quietly supporting moves that would delay general elections that are due to take place this spring, most likely through the imposition of a military-backed caretaker administration.
On April 26, Pakistan’s Supreme Court found Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in contempt of court for his refusal to ask Switzerland to re-open a corruption investigation into President Asif Ali Zardari. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that as a result of that conviction, Gilani is no longer Prime Minister (and has not been so since the April conviction).
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani ineligible for office, plunging the country into another political crisis.
In April, the Supreme Court found Gilani guilty of contempt of court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against the president. Gilani’s lawyer, Fawad Chaudhry, said only parliament could dismiss the prime minister.
“Since no appeal was filed (against the April 26 conviction) … therefore Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani stands disqualifed as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament)…,” said Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in a packed courtroom.
Dawn brings us more:
“Yousuf Raza Gilani has become disqualified from being member of the parliament,” said Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, reading the order.
“He has also ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan with effect from the same date (April 26) and office of the prime minister shall be deemed to be vacant accordingly.
“The Election Commission is required to issue notification of disqualification… The president is required to take necessary steps under the constitution to ensure continuation of democratic process through parliamentary system of government in the country,” he added.
A three-member bench, comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain heard a set of constitutional petitions challenging National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza’s ruling over the reference against Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The Express Tribune cites a report by the Express News that Gilani will have 30 days to appeal the ruling. The Tribune also reports that the PPP, the political party of Zardari and Gilani, is holding an emergency meeting. There also is increased security in the government zone:
Security in the Red Zone has been put on high-alert, while a heavy contingent of police has also been deployed at the Gilani House in Multan.
It will be very interesting to see how Zardari and the PPP choose to go forward from this point. Will they simply support an appeal of the Supreme Court ruling, even though they did not appeal the initial contempt ruling? Will they instead choose a new Prime Minister and seek to finish the current term until elections next year? Will they choose to call early elections?
Whatever course Zardari and the PPP choose, Pakistan is now in uncharted waters. I have seen no reports, however, suggesting that the military plans to step in and take control of the government during this crisis. That is a major step forward for democratic processess as the judiciary and the elected government seek to find a way to move forward.
Update: Dawn is now reporting that the PPP has decided not to call for early elections and will instead name a new Prime Minister within 24 hours.
In a case that has been simmering for months, Pakistan’s Supreme Court today found Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani guilty of contempt of court for failing to carry through with investigation of corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani’s “sentence” was brief, lasting only about 30 seconds until the court adjourned. Dawn’s description of what is likely to come next suggests that appeals of various sorts will take months to play out, but the largest opposing political parties are calling for Gilani’s immediate resignation.
From the Express Tribune:
The bench found Gilani guilty of contempt of court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against the president, but gave him only a symbolic sentence of a few minutes’ detention in the courtroom, while he did not receive any jail term.
“For reasons to be recorded later, the prime minister is found guilty of contempt for wilfully flouting the direction of the Supreme Court,” said Justice Nasirul Mulk.
A seven-member bench, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk announced the verdict and convicted him for violating Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 section 5 and the charges framed against him were for willfully disobeying the court’s orders and ridiculing it.
The court cited article 63 (1) (g) of the Constitution and observed that the premier might face consequences under it.
The long process ahead for appeals is described in Dawn:
Senator (R) Iqbal Haider said, “The fact remains that the PM has been found guilty of contempt of court and was sentenced under Article 63 (1) (g) of the Constitution of Pakistan. His sentence, no matter how short it was, has serious repercussions. The prime minister has been labelled as a convict.”
“Gilani will certainly file an appeal and will remain in his position till the final appeal is dismissed. At the same time, it is very important to understand that the dismissed appeal can also be filed for further review, providing the government with more time to drag the case,” added Haider.
According to Haider, if the review is also dismissed by the court, the matter will then be taken to the National Assembly of Pakistan. The debate will be initiated to assess the verdict and the speaker of the assembly, on the basis of unanimous decision, can file a reference in the Election Commission of Pakistan.”
“The Election Commission of Pakistan, reviewing all the charges and verdicts against the PM, will issue a notification for de-seating him entirely, however, I must also say that this notification can also be challenged by Gilani,” he added.
Showing extreme frustration over senior police officials not appearing before his hearing today on Balochistan, Pakistan’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry lashed out at them:
Chaudhry had summoned Inspector General (IG) Balochistan and relevant Superintendent Police (SP) in the court earlier today on an immediate notice.
“If the police officials failed to comply with the court’s order, they will be sent to jail,” he had warned.
He censured the law enforcement agencies for their incompetency in maintaining peace in the province and remarked that the courts are being kept uninformed about the factual details.
“Balochistan is on fire but the officials are mere spectators to it,” Chaudhry remarked.
The court also heard from three people who previously had been among the “missing”:
In another relevant development, three people who had been recovered from Kuchlak area were presented before the court.
They narrated their ordeal before the bench and said: “We were abducted from Quetta at night; we were blindfolded and then kept at some unknown location for about 40 days.”
The court issued release orders for the three recovered people and directed the police to safely escort them to their homes.
The number of missing people abducted by government forces is very much in dispute, as pointed out on Monday in the Express Tribune:
The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VFBMP), an organisation striving for the safe recovery of missing persons, urged the Chief Justice of Pakistan to hold monthly hearings on the issue in Quetta.
“Relatives are coming to Quetta with the hope that the chief justice will recover their loved ones who have been missing for years,” VFBMP Chairman Nasrullah Baloch told The Express Tribune.
Baloch added that the relatives of all 1,300 missing persons will appear before the court and record their statements before Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. “This move will prove that the government and its functionaries are lying (when they say) merely 47 persons are missing,” he said. Continue reading
In his much-anticipated appearance today before Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was represented by Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan. [I must admit to a bit of bias here. Ahsan became something of a personal hero to me when he organized Pakistan's Black Flag Week in March of 2008, eventually resulting in thousands of lawyers taking to the street and successfully securing the release and reinstatement of the Supreme Court Chief Justice who had been sacked and arrested by Pervez Musharraf. The picture at left is a screengrab from this YouTube of an appeal he sent out in organizing Black Flag Week.] The proceeding against Gilani was adjourned until February 1, in order for Aitzaz to prepare his case more fully. It also appears that Gilani has been excused from further personal appearances at the court.
In other Pakistan developments today, it appears that Ahmed Shuja Pasha will not have his term extended again as head of Pakistan’s ISI spy agency. The selection of a new ISI head will provide yet another front of intrigue in the ongoing struggles between the Zardari government and Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces. Also, it appears that Pakistan is getting close to re-opening NATO’s supply routes through the country, but with the addition of tolls.
Here is Dawn on the court proceedings:
The Supreme Court on Thursday adjourned the prime minister’s contempt hearing to Feb 1, leaving a brewing political crisis over corruption cases and presidential immunity unresolved.
The court has also exempted the premier from appearing for the upcoming hearing of the case.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appeared in the court today to explain why he should not be charged with contempt for failing to re-open old corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Ahsan requested the court for a month’s time to file a response. He said the time was required to access and go through the case’s record. Responding to which, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said that access to records could be provided in two days’ time.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court stopped just short of declaring Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani unfit for office today, and instead found him in contempt of court. He is to appear personally before the court on January 19 to answer the charges. He could be thrown out of office at that proceeding. In the meantime, the Guardian is reporting that early elections are beginning to look likely. This would appear to be the only way out for a government that is facing a military that doesn’t want it in office along with two serious proceedings against it underway in the Supreme Court.
The Express Tribune reports on the contempt finding:
The Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a contempt of court notice to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Monday and directed him to appear personally before the bench on January 19, Express News reported.
During the proceedings, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Fasih Bokhari tendered an unconditional apology to the court, on which the court said that a written apology should be submitted.
Speaking to the media after the hearing, Federal Law Minister Maula Bux Chandio said that he will inform the government about the court’s verdict and admitted that the contempt notice is not something to be taken lightly.
A bit further along in the article, the Express News describes the six options that the Supreme Court had outlined last week as its possible courses of action on the NRO case. Here is the entry on a contempt finding:
Option 2: Contempt proceedings
The bench said the prime minister and the law minister could face contempt proceedings for “persistently, obstinately and contumaciously resisting” to implement the judgment. A possible conviction may entail a disqualification from being elected as a member of parliament for five years, the bench warned.
Events continue to unfold at a very rapid pace in Pakistan. On Tuesday, I had noted, in comments to my post on the constitutional crisis facing the country over implementing the repeal of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, that Dawn was reporting that Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari had said that he is ready to resign if that is what his political party desires. Further, Zardari had called for a meeting of Parliament for today, along with a meeting just before that with high officials in his PPP political party.
In the meantime, Wednesday was very eventful, as the civilian government and military traded multiple charges back and forth over the continuing memogate controversy. In the midst of that tussle, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani fired the country’s defense secretary and the military announced a new head for a “brigade known for its prominent role in coups”.
Today, it appears that Zardari has once again fled to Dubai. Both a scheduled medical follow-up to last month’s hospitalization in Dubai and a wedding have been given as reasons for this trip. So far, I’ve seen no mention in any of the stories on his departure of the Parliament meeting and political party meeting that he had called for today. Neither a “scheduled” medical trip nor a trip for a wedding make sense as explanations for a sudden trip which cancels these hastily called meetings. Despite the explanation that this is a one day trip, I’d be very surprised if he chooses to return to Pakistan.
Reuters reports on Zardari’s departure:
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari flew to Dubai on a scheduled one-day trip on Thursday, a member of the ruling party and sources said, while tensions grew over a memo seeking U.S. help in preventing a coup by Pakistan’s powerful military.
Relations between Pakistan’s civilian government and the military have reached their lowest point since a coup in 1999, reducing the chances that the leadership can take on the country’s enormous social and economic challenges.
Military sources say that while they would like Zardari to go, it should be through constitutional means, not another of the coups that have marked Pakistan’s almost 65 years of independence.
“There is no talk in the military of a takeover,” a mid-level army officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, told Reuters.
“I don’t foresee a military coup.”
The stage is set, of course, for the “constitutional” removal of Zardari, as his government has a deadline of Monday for responding to the Supreme Court on the NRO case. As noted earlier this week, the Supreme Court has threatened to find the civilian government unfit to rule if it does not respond properly to its rulings. Zardari’s sudden departure, only four days before that deadline, would appear to be an admission that he and his government have no response to the charges.