ISLAMABAD: In 1999, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry went to inspect Civil Hospital Quetta as Chief Justice of Balochistan. He found there a court convict admitted to the VVIP ward to escape the hardships of jail, sentenced for 90-years in a political loans default case.
The convict was none other than Khalid Banwa, a bank manager and family friend of Justice Chaudhry. Khalid’s father had served in police with Jan Muhammad Chaudhry, father of Justice Chaudhry. Not only had their fathers served together, both families shared the walls of their houses.
Justice Chaudhry didn’t care for a while about the family ties nor of Khalid Banwa as a personal friend. He immediately directed the hospital authorities to send him back to jail and remarked: “Poor prisoners languish in jails and the rich convicts take comforts in VIP wards of hospital.”
Later, Banwa was also denied relief when he appealed in Justice Chaudhry-headed Balochistan High Court. Banwa resultantly severed ties with Justice Chaudhry. He could only secure acquittal from the Supreme Court in the following years, the facts confirmed by Banwa and further verified by columnist Oriya Maqbool Jan, then DG Social Security Balochistan, who had accompanied Justice Chaudhry to the hospital.
This is one instance of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry not caring for anybody when it comes to delivering justice. The critics speculating about him amid the corruption allegations against his son, Dr Arsalan, hardly know who they are talking about and that too so recklessly.
The News interviewed four different persons who have either worked or spent time with Justice Chaudhry. They say nobody could bet on Justice Chaudhry. “He’s nobody’s man. He won’t spare his closest relatives when it comes to delivering justice,” noted a senior police officer, retired now, who knew him since childhood. Justice Chaudhry is an introvert, has very few friends, is workaholic, but a caring colleague and family person. “He achieves position by dint of hard work and a bit of luck. He earned a name in history which very few people in Pakistan could acquire,” said a man who has known him since ages.
Hailing from a humble background, Justice Chaudhry is the son of a policeman who retired as a sub-inspector. During his law graduation study in Hyderabad, when his family was unable to afford his expenses, he worked in a coal-mine factory to afford expenses. His elder brother lives in United Kingdom while Justice Chaudhry’s younger brother is mentally handicapped. His two children are also handicapped. All three are his responsibility and capture his attention more than others.
As a judge, his colleagues say, nobody can beat him in hard work. He attends court from 9am to 5pm. After adjourning court, his colleagues leave but administrative work keeps him busy in the Supreme Court. Once he is done with it, he gets to the human rights complaints received from all nook and corner of Pakistan and orders action and compliance report from the concerned departments. After this, he ensures readings of the files of cases to be heard next morning.
A retired judge who worked with him says Justice Chaudhry’s day ‘end at the start of next day’ at 3am as he goes to bed then.His routine was not different while being a lawyer. His chamber in Quetta would remain open until 1am, said a lawyer who knows him for a long time. Office schedule didn’t change after he became advocate general of Balochistan. “He is an amazing person,” said a retired judge.
According to a retired judge, Justice Chaudhry would attend his brother judges even at mid-night, taking them to hospital in the event of sudden illness.
Hardly, there is anybody who could claim to know Justice Chaudhry very closely. The information collected about him is in bits and pieces from different sources. Reason? Justice Chaudhry is said to be very reclusive and hardly discusses his personal life with anybody, even with brother judges.
Justice Chaudhry was very obedient of his mother. But if you praise him for this, explained one of his confidantes, he would offer you a smile laced with shyness. Bureaucracy complains of being reprimanded but he is simultaneously respectful if he comes to know about the honesty of an officer. The likes of Tariq Khosa, Zafar Qureshi and Hussain Asghar were not only treated with dignity, Justice Chaudhry assigned them high-profile investigations.
Very few details have emerged about him and again not from Justice Chaudhry. For example, Javed Chaudhry wrote a really moving piece about Justice Chaudhry’s visit to a jewellery shop and the shopping of only Rs2,000 he did for his daughters. The jeweller told Javed Chaudhry that how Justice Chaudhry detached himself from a bench hearing his (jeweller) case.
Oriya Maqbool Jan’s column on Saturday was about the time he spent with Justice Chaudhry as his law student in Quetta College and later as public servant when he had to accompany Justice Chaudhry during visits to examine the conditions of jails.
It’s not that he started taking to task to the high and mighty after becoming the Chief Justice of Pakistan, argues Oriya Maqbool Jan. He had summoned IG FC in 1997 heading a single-member bench when Oriya had registered an FIR against an FC colonel, captain and three personnel for spraying bullets on a bus, killing one commuter. This is another story that case was later taken over by the then Chief Justice Amirul Mulk Mengal after the IG FC met him, explained Oriya.
After elevation as judge of the Supreme Court and later the chief justice, he held accountable the powerful agencies on missing persons case and was sent on forced leave and a charge sheet was furnished against him.
There was no let up in his pace after reinstatement. He gave tough time to the government on corruption cases and took up Asghar Khan’s petition regarding the distribution of money by ISI among politicians. The moment whispering started about the involvement of his son in the alleged corruption case, Justice Chaudhry was conducting regular hearings on the missing persons cases in Balochistan.
The Musharraf regime also hatched a plot against the CJ by facilitating appointment and transfer of his son Arsalan against rules. The government had done this on the desire of CJ’s son and tried to give the impression that the CJ was behind the move. The fact was, however, that the CJ never asked anyone to favour his son in this regard. The Musharraf government trapped his son to damage the reputation of the CJ.
Undoubtedly, the allegations against Dr Arsalan are of heinous nature, Justice Chaudhry won’t like him treating differently from Khalid Banwa, in case the son was found guilty, said his close friends. This is the toughest time in his life, but he will come out successful again and his opponents would lick the dust, the say.