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March '07: Balochistan begs to differ?

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Balochistan begs to differ?
Events related to judiciary and media have rocked Pakistan in March. There are protests all around and the general mood of the country is one of dismay, anger and protest. All over the country this mood is prevalent except Balochistan which is surprising since the dismissed Chief Justice hails from Balochistan. Individualland for the March individu-spotlight wanted to explore why this is so? As always, feedback will be most welcome.

Wrapped with a resplendently gray shawl and wearing a brown topee, the soft-spoken charismatic man quipped endlessly. The audience listened mutely. As Mizan Chowk, Quetta’s Times Square, was overcrowded with his diehard admirers, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, the scion of Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, proudly recollected the sacrifices the people of Quetta had given while fighting dictatorship and repression in various phases of history. In the meanwhile, he realized that the first part of his speech, which was in Pashtoo, fell short to summarize his never-ending complaints against the ‘Punjab-dominated’ Center. Thus, he resorted to Urdu. Every issue, except for which the grand rally of March 13 was called, was heatedly mentioned in his speech.

Leaders of different political parties had gathered at Mizan Chowk that afternoon following a successful shutter down strike in Balochistan’s capital, Quetta, earlier in the morning that day. Though the strike was meant to protest the removal of Justice Ifthakar Mohammad Chaudhary, the suspended Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), all of these leaders cleverly snubbed the very pivotal issue in their respective speeches. It was more like a political anti-Musharraf-cum-military public gathering rather than an event that expressed solidarity with the disgracefully suspended Justice Chaudhary, the first man from the country’s most backward province of Balochistan to hold the prestigious office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

At the Mizan Chowk rally, each speaker was more engrossed in Balochistan’s more important political issues rather than squandering the 8-minute speech duration in lionizing a man who they believed was equally culpable of violating the country’s constitution and deliberately skirting the grave violation of human rights in Balochistan by the country’s military and its intelligence agencies.

“We condemn the assault on the judiciary but we also have had our reservations against Justice Ifthakar Mohammad Khan. He does not have a transparent track record,” Mahmood Achakzai, president of Pakistan’s Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM), said.

Was it the mass public awareness or the utter oblivion that left Quetta, the hometown of suspended Justice Chaudhary, tightlipped remains anybody’s guess. But one thing was clear: The ordinary man in Balochistan, including a large segment of the lawyers, remained totally indifferent towards a development which experts argue would have long-term repercussions on the future of this country.

Staggeringly, Quetta remained mainly silent over the removal of Justice Chaudhary. A deeper observation reveals that there was a sense of jubilation among the people of Balochistan. While the others totally disassociated themselves with the issue as they contended they had ‘more pressing issues’ to worry about instead of coming out of their homes to expostulate over a ‘non-issue’.

“The removal of CJP is the expected culmination of the judiciary-military nexus. It could be a big news for the rest of the country but it is no news for the people of Balochistan,” stated Amanullah Kanrani, Vice Chairman of Balochistan Bar Association. He believes the people of Balochistan, particularly the Baloch population, are not shocked over the filing of a judicial reference against the former CJP.

Kanrani’s views are echoed by former Balochistan High Court judge Tariq Mahmood, who resigned from his office in protest against Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order. He says the onus of the latest assault on the judiciary is on the judiciary itself which has willingly joined hands with the military. “ Had the CJP refused to recognize the PCO and LFO [Legal Framework Order], our judiciary would not have to see such dark days again and again.”

The lawyers in Quetta have also been divided on the issue. While the Pakistan Bar Council called for protest rallies and boycott of the court proceedings to sympathize with justice Chaudhary, the Balochistan Bar Council and Baloch Bar Association refused to follow suit.

“I appreciate the President’s move [of filing a reference] against Justice Ifthakar. This step should have been taken much earlier,” says Wasey Tareen, a former president of Balochistan Bar Association, who believes the former CJP was even involved in corruption of more serious nature.

“He used to act autocratically when he was the Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court. Earlier, he overtly formulated and backed a lobby of ‘privileged lawyers’ against former Baloch Chief Justice Amir-ul-Mulk Mengal. He was not free in making decisions. Rather, he used to take dictations from politicians,” he alleges. For instance, Wasey maintains, he was sacked from the post of a Session Judge in Noshaki district by Justice Chaudhary. “ What was my fault?” he questions: “Simply, because I was then a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif [ the former Pakistan Prime Minister] wrote Justice Chaudhary a letter asking him to fire me.”

A vast majority of the lawyers who do not sympathize with Justice Chaudhary comprises those who criticize him for his willingness to silently accept Musharraf’s brazen violation of the constitution. “ A judge is supposed to be a role model for rest of the people. But Justice Chaudhary himself succumbed to the pressure of the military. Why did he take oath under PCO? Why did he recognize the LFO? Why did he endorse the 17th Amendment? And why should be sympathize with him now?” questions a veteran legal expert requesting not to be named.

Justice Ifthakar Mohammad Chaudhary might have emerged as a hero and an ardent backer of ‘justice for all’, However, he fails to enjoy similar support from the people of his home province. His detractors outnumber his proponents in Balochistan.

Holder of an LLB degree, 59-year old Justice Ifthakar Mohammad Chaudhary started practice as an advocate in the year 1974 and enrolled as a High Court Advocate in 1976. It was 1985, when he enrolled as a Supreme Court advocate.

By and large, it is said that the then Balochistan Chief Minister late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti played a key role in the appointment of Chaudhary as Balochistan’s Advocate General in 1989. He was elevated as Additional Judge High Court of Balochistan in 1990 and confirmed as Judge High Court of Balochistan in the year 1993. He rose to the rank of Balochistan Chief Justice on 22nd April 1999. He became a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on 4th February 2000 and appointed as the Chief Justice Pakistan on 30th June 2005.

Earlier, Justice Chaudhary also served as the President of Balochistan High Court Bar Association and was elected twice as the member of Bar Council.

Politicians and lawyers in Balochistan equally accuse Justice Chaudhary of not doing enough for the people of Balochistan. For instance, Zahoor Ahmed Shawani, Vice Chairman of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), says Justice Chaudhary did not sincerely play his role as a senior judge to resurface thousands of missing Baloch youths, whose number is calculated to be as high as four thousand.

“ He [Chaudhary] remained a mere viewer of the military operation in Balochistan, the killing of Akbar Bugti and the extra-judicial arrests of political activists by the intelligence agencies. The people of Balochistan have disowned him because he never used his good offices to ensure the recovery of those who have gone missing for ages,” he says. Shawani finds it ironic that some people believe the biggest achievement of the suspended CJP was his intervention in the recovery of the missing persons. This, he maintains, was ‘selective justice only to benefit Punjab and locate those involved in Al-Qaeda-related cases.”

“Regarding the Baloch youths, he did not take notice of petitions filed by the families of the missing persons. In a number of cases involving Baloch victims, he deliberately avoided the hearing of the cases by extending the dates of the hearings from time to time. “ At the end of the day, even if the petitions were brought at all before the court after the passage of one year, he would then ask the relatives of the missing persons to go and lodge an FIR,” adds Shawani of HRCP.

Baloch lawyers are more skeptical of Justice Chaudhary. They regret that Justice Chaudhary promoted an anti-Baloch lobby in the provincial judiciary. He would not tolerate the Baloch lawyers and did not take an interest in the large-scale killing of the Baloch people in the recent military operation.

Justice Chaudhary’s unpopularity and the public ambivalence can be gauged from the fact that out of around 2000 lawyers working in Balochistan, hardly 20 to 25 turned up in support of Justice Chaudhary during the public rally staged by Pashtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party on 13th March.

Interestingly, these too were the lawyers who are office-bearer of various political parties. They, on their part, seem to have found the latest case the best pretext to play political cards. But the issue of Justice Chaudhary has barely attracted a large number of people in Balochistan.

Why the people of Balochistan not rise in support of a Balochistani CJP, Individualland asked.

“ Because no Balochistani would like to kiss a person who is polluted with LFO, responsible for brokering deals with the military junta, guilty of not taking notice of the recently carried out operation in Balochistan” retorted a legal expert, adding the people of Balochistan have more serious problems to worry about. The removal of the CJP is a ‘non-issue’ for most of the Baloch people.

Malik Siraj Akbar is a journalist and a researcher based in Balochistan. He wrote this piece exclusively for Individualland. Malik Siraj Akbar blogs at www.gmcmissing.wordpress.com



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