INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT

March 11, 2017

ODE TO SAJJAD ALI SHAH

Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 4:19 am

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Ex Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah passed away this week. May his Soul Rest in Eternal Peace? Unlike lateral entrants who form the majority of Supreme Court, he was a career jurist rising through the ranks from 1967 t0 1998. Consequent to a long tussle he had with Mian Nawaz Sharif, he was stripped of his title by his fellow judges in 1998. Amidst the PSL finals and controversies, the news of his death was damp and insignificant. Akin to the cantankerous nature of Pakistani politics, the man who made headlines from 1994 to 1998, died in oblivion. Yet the cause for which he lived and died remains unaccomplished. The battle between corrupt elites and public interests of the people is ongoing in the very courts that disgraced him.

The anonymity of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah is explainable in the interrelationship of ‘Raw Power’ in Pakistani politics with short public memory that makes truth the first casualty. It also reflects a yawning gap in the ability of opinion makers and media to sift real from fiction. Most, it is a grim reminder that nations that forget history and do not self-correct continue to suffer indignity and pain. It is also an indictment on public perceptions that are managed to eclipse realities. Lastly it represents a collective flexible conscience of the elites that only awakens when self-benefits can be reaped. Justice Sajjad Ali Shah’s death reflects the dearth of the ‘Rule of Law’.

His autobiography, ‘Law Courts in a Glass House’ rots in dustbins with no reviews. Not a single readable copy of his memoirs is available on the internet. Oxford University Press that published his book does not have a copy. Many legal experts are reluctant to talk about him. When confronted with existing controversies, they reluctantly agree but only so. Being on the wrong side of history is an admission impossible to come by. The only introduction available is, “Supreme Court Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was about to reach a major constitutional decision when Legislators of the ruling Muslim League Party stormed the Supreme Court in Pakistan, physically preventing him from delivering judgment. Here, Shah provides the judiciary’s version of this bizarre episode, shedding new light on Pakistani history, law, and politics.”

Ironically his autobiography corroborates with the existing political culture of Pakistan with a bench of Supreme Court seized with an ‘event in succession’, that could make judicial history. Once again the party exerting implied pressure on the Supreme Court is PMLN that masterminded the humbling of Sajjad Ali Shah. If past is precedence, the culture of gratification will prevail and therefore reflect the divides in the bench. There may be insignificant few who will ‘pity the nation’. Apex Courts are on trial ‘to come of age’ or fall to the temptations of a judicial culture put in place by Zia Ul Haq, PMLN and Chaudary Iftikhar. Odds are uneven.

Despite many controversies that surrounded him, history will record him as a jurist who led a single handed campaign against forces of corruption and nepotism. Had he succeeded, the constitutional and political history of Pakistan would have been remarkably different. There would have been no military rule; a different military chief; and a better line of political succession. Also the highly politicized judiciary would have been purged. Most, Pakistan’s nuclear capability would have been boosted by political stability and economic development.

As a prelude to Pakistan’s nuclear explosions, this was perceived in 1997-98 as a logical course of events put off-track by forces of political greed and inertia. General Karamat’s departure as the COAS was the last nail in the coffin of wishful thinking. His capitulation was too docile, drowning the aspirations of a nation. Alas, Pakistan was to take a most wrecking course leading to present controversies. With Malik Qasim’s report and Rehman Malik’s investigation on money laundering, Panama, offshore investments and Swiss Bank accounts would have been nipped in the bud. Pakistan would have been richer by scores of billions in US Dollars.

Effort by him to unsuccessfully alter the course of Pakistan’s tainted constitutional and corrupt politics caused his isolation. Live by the sword and you die by it. Himself a beneficiary of political expediency, he miscalculated his services and failed to realize that he was surrounded by fellow judges who owed a lot to their political masters. As his differences with Mian Nawaz Sharif reached a crescendo, he was controversially removed by his fellow judges. The two justices who created the factions were politically rewarded to become the President of Pakistan and Governor of Sindh.

Eventually, neither the military not the President came to his support. Thumped with a two thirds majority, Prime Minster was quick to move the Thirteenth Amended that deprived the President of powers. Disarmed, President Laghari had a choice to get impeached or resign. Besieged by a majority he had craftily managed to put in place, he chose resignation. In mysterious circumstances, the COAS General Jehanghir Karamat also resigned.

Equipped with the Thirteenth Amendment, Nawaz Sharif could now have a Chief Justice and Army Chief of his choice. He did, but was removed through a coup led by his handpicked military chief. With good overseas connections, he bounced back in controversial elections to only begin from where he had left. The issues that Justice Sajjad Ali Shah tried addressing aggravated with time, and remain unresolved.

The cardinal sin committed by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was the even application of law. This he manifested in his dissenting judgment in Nawaz Sharif case in 1993 and dismissal of PPP government in 1996. Though he is discredited with upholding this dismissal, the decision came from the highest office under pressure from USA for her reconciliatory efforts in bringing peace to Afghanistan (Nation: I August 2010. The Elusive Peace: A War of Error).

Eventually, the system isolated him. In desperation he asked the three services chiefs to protect him and his court under Article 190 of the constitution. This was not done and ultimately PMLN mobs ransacked the Supreme Court. At his weakest, suddenly the elastic conscience of his brother judges to gang up against him came to fore. Belatedly, they realized after three years that his appointment was illegal and stripped him. With him ended one chapter of Pakistan’s judicial anarchy [interpretation of Article 184 (3)] only to successively re-sink Pakistan whenever it suited the benefactors and beneficiaries.   The tug continues.

If one was to draw an organogram of Pakistan’s judicial and bureaucratic elites, factorise events with empiricism, the conclusions would be shocking and heart breaking.  These would authenticate the memoirs of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.

As a hypothesis, the present judicial system is a continuation of the courts of Justice Nasim Hassan Shah and the young bureaucrats inducted into service in the 90s. One way or the other, the majority are directly or indirectly placed as beneficiaries of political gratification and what Qaid e Azam abhorred; jobbery.  As regards Panama Public Interest Litigation proceeds, these findings will be staring down the throats of many judges of the apex courts who are beneficiaries of the system.

The Shah has died. Long live the Shah.

Samson Simon Sharaf

The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson

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