General Pervez Musharraf is facing the most difficult crisis of his life. He has been claiming in recent public meetings that 'I am not weak; I will fight till victory because I am a soldier'. This time he is not fighting with India in Kargil. He is fighting with the Chief Justice of Pakistan in Islamabad. This heavily armed soldier is using all the military and civil institutions of the country against his enemy, but the unarmed enemy is confident that he will defeat General Pervez Musharraf. Why is this unarmed judge determined to fight? He is not fighting for just his personal honour, he is not fighting for becoming President, he is fighting for the supremacy of law and that is why a judge has become a hero of the masses for the first time.
Just a few months ago Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was planning to send references against six Supreme Court and high court judges on corruption charges. At least one among those judges was the brother of a serving federal minister. The prime minister was also not happy with the Chief Justice because he used to summon top police officials to court and grill them in front of their subordinates. The prime minister was also embarrassed when the Supreme Court gave a verdict against the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills and suspected 'wheeling and dealings' in the sale process.
The judicial activism of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry created a fear that he may not allow Musharraf to remain in uniform after November 16, 2007, which he was allowed to through the 17th Constitutional amendment a few years ago. Now he doesn't want to take off his uniform because the uniform is believed to be his only strength. Just to protect his strength, he decided to replace Chaudhry. He called the Chief Justice to Army House on March 9 and asked for his resignation. For the first time a Chief Justice refused to tender his resignation to a military dictator in Pakistan. Musharraf even offered him the governorship of Baluchistan but the Chief Justice turned down this offer. After failing to get his resignation, Musharraf started a judicial crisis by sending a reference against him to the supreme judicial council.
This is the first time that many sitting judges of high courts and lower courts have resigned in protest against the manhandling of their Chief Justice by the police. The whole lawyers' community came out on the roads for saving the Chief Justice. The media is also defiant. The offices of Geo TV in Islamabad were attacked to silence the media but its strength was underestimated. Musharraf apologized to Geo TV within three hours of the attack. Most of his ministers are silent and disturbed. Even one of his most loyal ministers, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, demanded that the government must say sorry to the Chief Justice.
Some of the ministers quietly advised Musharraf that the reference against Chaudhry be withdrawn to end the crisis but the General is ready for a judicial fight. He hopes that at least three out of five judges in the Supreme Judicial Council will give their verdict against the Chief Justice. The remaining two, including Rana Bhagwan Das, are believed to be siding with the Chief Justice. Chaudhry's lawyers have expressed their no confidence in three judges. The Chief Justice informed his lawyers that he was actually planning to send a reference against these three judges but now these three are hearing a case against him. The judicial crisis is also turning into a political crisis.
2007 is election year in Pakistan. For the first time in the last eight years all the major opposition political parties are coming closer to each other for a grand alliance against Musharraf. After smelling this threat Musharraf immediately closed down a special cell in Lahore which was investigating corruption cases against former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. He gave the impression that he is ready to make an alliance with Bhutto just to divide the opposition.
Benazir is also a very clever politician. She demanded that Musharraf take off his uniform before making an alliance with her. Musharraf is not ready to sacrifice his uniform for Benazir Bhutto because he will be a nobody without his uniform. Now his media managers are trying their best to change the focus. They encouraged the media to focus on the humiliating defeat of Pakistan in Cricket World Cup but they failed. The media raised a question why Musharraf appointed his personal friend Dr Naseem Ashraf as chairman of the Cricket Board just months before the World Cup, and how this brave Pashtun friend of Musharraf has suddenly disappeared. Like Shaukat Aziz, the chairman of Cricket Board also came from the United States to serve Musharraf.
After failing to divert the public's attention from the judicial crisis the Musharraf government played another dangerous card. Two cleric brothers of Lal Mosque in Islamabad helped Musharraf by announcing the imposition of Islamic law in Islamabad. Opposition parties have accused the Lal Mosque of trying to divert the public's attention from the judicial crisis to the so-called 'rising threat of Talibanization' in Pakistan. All the major religious parties are opposing the Lal Mosque announcement and supporting the Chief Justice. A majority of the people are more concerned about the judicial crisis, and don't care about the mad announcements from Lal Mosque.
Many analysts are of the view that Pakistan is going through its defining moments which will decide the future of democracy in Pakistan. The common man is angry at the humiliation of an unarmed Chief Justice and a verdict against Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry will not be accepted by the public. A verdict in support of Musharraf will destroy the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a verdict in support of Chaudhry will destroy Musharraf. A main lawyer of Justice Chaudhry named Aitzaz Ahsan claimed, 'I will blast the charges against my client'.
If there is a judicial blast in Pakistan, it will change not only some faces in the government but the whole system. Pakistan will head towards civilian rule after any judicial blast in Islamabad. The people of Pakistan will not welcome another general after a general; they want Musharraf to be the last military dictator of Pakistan. There is still a safe exit route for Musharraf. He can avoid the judicial blast. He must withdraw his reference against the Chief Justice, hold free and fair elections and transfer power to the elected representatives of the people. True democracy and rule of law are the only solutions for all the problems in Pakistan.
(Hamid Mir is the Executive Editor of Geo TV in Islamabad)