Amina Masood Janjua found an ally in Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry during her efforts to find the disappeared in Pakistan. A frequent critic of the Pakistani government, Chaudhry began an investigation into the whereabouts of the many missing detainees. But months after taking up the case filed by Janjua, the chief justice was removed from his position on vague charges of "misuse of power." The country exploded in violent protest against Chaudhry's arrest and, more generally, against the rule of President Pervez Musharraf.
Before the country's top lawmaker was reinstated, FRONTLINE/World correspondent David Montero sat down with Aitzaz Ahsan, Chaudhry's lawyer, to talk about the case against the chief justice, the public's intense response to it and why Musharraf may be losing the support of the Pakistani people.
Aitzaz Ahsan, Chief Justice Chaudhry's lawyer.
David Montero: President Musharraf and the government of Pakistan have assured the citizens of Pakistan that the matter of Chief Justice Chaudhry has been dealt with in a manner that accords with the constitution of Pakistan. Do you agree with that assessment?
Aitzaz Ahsan: Who does President Musharraf want to deceive by that? The West may be gullible enough to take it and accept it, but he challenges credulity. Is it legal for the army chief to summon a chief justice? Is it legal to detain a chief justice for five hours in the army chief's office? And in that period -- while [Chaudhry] is still the chief justice of Pakistan -- swear in somebody else to act as chief justice and transfer the reigns of the supreme court to the acting chief justice? Is it legal then to drive the chief justice in custody to his residence from the army house in Rawalpindi? Is it legal to cut his telephone lines off? To cut his television off? To cut his DSL and broadband connections off? To arrest all his servants? To deny him his cell phones? To remove his vehicles with forklifts? Then to manhandle him before the cameras on the March 13th, the first day after four days of detention, when he is moving toward the Supreme Judicial Council for a hearing. What is legal?
What is your assessment of why the government took these actions?
Muhammad Chaudhry was an independent judge; he was an independent chief justice. General Musharraf was afraid that [Chaudhry] would rule against him on the issue of whether the general can continue to retain his uniform beyond November 2007 and whether the general can be re-elected by these very assemblies. Obviously, the general was afraid that the chief justice, because of his independent mind, would decide some important matters in a fashion not acceptable for General Musharraf.
He had already done that hadn't he? Many people point to [previous cases] and particularly the disappearance cases as a sign that Chaudhry was showing an independent activist strain that may have irked the government.
Well, what else should a chief justice be: dependent or independent? I mean, I ask you. A chief justice is supposed to be independent. A chief justice is supposed to, if petitioned, to seek the whereabouts of detainees. Pakistan is not a place like Guantanamo Bay, where the jurisdiction of the courts does not extend. If citizens are disappearing and their wives petition the chief justice, what should the chief justice do? He just did what was right according to law, according to his conscience and according to the constitution.
Using street protests, the courts, and the free press, Janjua stirred the first direct public campaign against the ISI.
We have seen vociferous, passionate protests for months. What do you think has ignited among people's sentiments that led to this uproar?
Many things. Most important is the fact that the army has become very unpopular in Pakistan. It has ruled in Pakistan for a good 36 out of Pakistan's 60 years. This is not a time for armies to rule. This is not a time for army chiefs to be president. There was a time when 30 percent of the states in the world were ruled by armies and chiefs of army staff. That time has gone. And the people resent military rule. The people see the army incorporated as a big multinational, multi-industrial, multi-business conglomerate. They see that army military justice is no justice. Nobody dares say "no" to the generals. And here was a man who said "no" to the generals when the generals summoned him. General Musharraf and his three intelligence chiefs summoned the chief justice and required that he resign. He refused to resign, so he turned into an instant hero.
What is your recourse now, and how hopeful are you that this can be settled in a manner that again accords with the constitution?
We hope the courts will apply the constitution. They are under intense pressure. The government is pressurizing them; it is feeding stories to the press. They [the government] are preparing references, which means indictments, against some of the judges. So the judges are under intense pressure. At the same time, the people have so resoundingly, so unanimously ... given a verdict in favor of the chief justice.
General Musharraf is probably the most unpopular man the country has seen in a very, very long time. And it is unanimous -- all political parties, all political cadres, all shades, all classes, all professions. This movement is led by the lawyers, who are a liberal, educated, enlightened body, by and large. They share Western values, such as due process, independence of the judiciary, rule of law, sovereignty of parliament, fair and free elections. They share these, but the West isn't noticing them. The West can't see beyond Pervez Musharraf, unfortunately. That's a shame, because the energies unleashed in this movement are unprecedented. Nobody has been able to trigger so much support.
How do you respond to the government's comments that Chauhdry had been abusing his power and that there was misconduct, which led to his being put into abeyance, as the government likes to say?
It is just meant to malign the chief justice. This was a reaction to his refusal to resign. The generals thought they were God, and they together would call and summon this chief justice, a civilian, and the civilian would shiver and shrivel and resign -- and everything would be fine. He'd be given a job as an ambassador and a governor, which is for the president to give. But the man stood his ground. And that is why the [indictment] was formulated in a hurried fashion. The charge sheet, if you read it, makes a laughing stock of the ones who drafted it and sent it. Nobody simply read the reference and charges that they were pressing against the chief justice. They were in a hurry to send it, in a feverish hurry. That is why they arrested him. They wanted to pressure him, while he was arrested, to resign. And they cut him off from the whole world to pressure him to resign. Had he resigned, the matter would have been over. General Musharraf would be whistling. But the man did not resign. And that is why the people are showing such solidarity with him.