Besides having serious reservations based on purely legal grounds on the recent judgment of the Supreme Court against Nawaz Sharif, I have a personal gripe as well.
On the legal front, the court stretched the definition of assets beyond what is legally tenable to enable it to disqualify a sitting democratically elected Prime Minister. Also, the court used the totally subjective test of Article 62(1)f after two members of the bench had earlier held in the April 20 judgment that the Court could not be used to engineer disqualifications on grounds of morality. I am also at a loss to understand how the court deprived the country and its electorate of an elected Prime Minister without first determining if the so-called lapse of not declaring a salary, which the court acknowledged was never withdrawn, was intentional male fide or merely a lapse. But I write today about something more personal, wondering how to make good the loss I suffered eight years ago.
When Iftikhar Chaudhry, the-then Chief Justice of Pakistan, was deposed by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, myself, my partner Bilal Minto and our best friend Mansoor Ali Shah, who is now the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, decided not to appear in the High Court or Supreme Court since we could not become part of a system that departed from the Constitution and law. As part of what came to be known as the lawyers’ movement, we were jailed for a few days—though we were among the lucky few who were under house arrest and were looked after quite well by our very gracious host, Shahid Hussein of Service Industries.
True to our stance we did not appear in court until Chaudhry was restored, a sacrifice that was easier than it sounds as we did not face the kind of economic hardship other lawyers had to. We nevertheless stood our ground because we believed we were fighting a worthy cause. Before going on, let me clarify that the claim I am about to make is not for all the lost fees in this period but something much smaller and more tangible.
When we heard that a rally calling for the restoration of the deposed Chief Justice was to leave Lahore, I decided to proceed to Islamabad in my almost brand new Toyota Camry, accompanied by Minto, Shah and Salman Akram Raja. Reaching Islamabad just before midnight, we heard that the lawyers’ movement had borne fruit and the Prime Minster had promised to restore the deposed chief justice. But to our dismay, all roads were blocked and there was no way to get into the capital.
However, fancying ourselves the foot soldiers of the rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution, we decided to take the less beaten path and discovered an unpaved road that, unknown to us, was to lead us into bumpy fields. Yet we decided to march on in the dark of the night aiming to reach Chaudhry’s house to celebrate. All of a sudden, with a loud bang, the car hit a big bump and screeched to a halt. On getting out we discovered that the front tire had burst and the front bumper had almost split, just hanging by a thread. My friends looked at me with sympathetic eyes but I told them not to worry: this was a small price to pay for supremacy of the law and the majesty of the Constitution. The broken bumper was thrown into the trunk and the soldiers of the Constitution marched on until we reached the Chief’s house.
That night it all seemed worth it. The not going to the courts, the three-day house arrest, and above all the broken bumper in the boot of a brand new Camry.
Until the Sharif judgment, I had never wondered if losing that bumper was worth it. But now their lordships’ judgment has for the first time made me think of the loss and that perhaps it was in vain. All of a sudden, I find myself thinking that the Constitution is perhaps still not supreme, that the laws can still be stretched to punish someone who may have become unacceptable for reasons other than the law. I find myself wondering if eight years ago, I should have told Minto, Shah and Raja to go back as the road does not lead to where we want to go. But I can’t go back in time so I only have one question. To whom should I send the bill for the broken bumper?
Ahmad is a senior lawyer based in Lahore.