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February 15, 2010

Fatal mistake of misreading Justice Saqib Nisar

Pakistan

A
APP
February 15, 2010

LAHORE: The registrar Lahore High Court called up Justice Saqib Nisar a few minutes before 7 pm and informed him of the presidential notification ordering LHC CJ Khawaj Sharif’s elevation to the Supreme Court and of his own appointment as the acting Chief Justice of the LHC. A short while later, a concerned Justice Nisar was on the phone with the Chief Justice of Pakistan, confirming whether the Presidential order enjoyed the CJ’s blessing and in either case informing Justice Chaudhry of his unwavering loyalty to the CJ’s office and not to the executive. In all likelihood, even CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry was not aware of the fact as he talked to Justice Saqib, that his younger colleague had already turned down the official invitation from the Punjab governor to take the oath of ‘his new office’ come next morning. The Chief Justice of Pakistan also did not know that even before talking to him, Justice Saqib had already conveyed to the relevant authorities that he was willing to be sacked for refusing the government offer of becoming chief justice. This was the defining moment that sealed a humiliating fate for a presidential incursion, based on pathetically poor legal and political advice.

It’s amazing how Islamabad misread this slight bodied judge, who physically may be of an average height but in terms of character, he walks tall. Real tall! The president and his men should have been wiser after the first round when at the very outset of the brewing controversy over the elevation of Khwaja Sharif, CJ LHC, Justice Saqib had let it be known unequivocally that he would only follow the dictates of the Chief Justice of the Pakistan and not of anyone else, including the president. Background interviews with relevant people in Islamabad and Lahore revealed that at that time many key people including the law minister, governor etc while working through interlocutors had tried prevailing upon Justice Saqib to at least “simply not give his consent to the

Chief Justice of Pakistan to be elevated to the Supreme Court ahead of Justice Khawaja”. All they asked him was to just “stay quiet” as that would have sufficed for them to create the impression of his not being in consort with his own chief justice. He refused. And later events showed that his refusal proved the basis of the unfolding of the government’s ill-advised judicial ambitions. Even during the latest fiasco, if only the president’s men had even sussed him out they would have known that the judge would stand by his own no matter what. Could it be that the government’s advisors had misread into his having taken a new oath after Musharraf’s judicial misadventure? Did they think that he could be persuaded through some juicy offer of the CJs slot or something? The president’s legal team would have suffered better had they only in the know that the fateful decision, which according to his close friends and family members still rests heavily on his conscience, had only been impressed upon him by a mentor whom he holds in the highest of regards and whose advice, or desire if you may, he could never decline.

He clearly is a man obsessed with posterity and one who only wants to be remembered and honoured as an honest and proud judge. There is no questioning his professional abilities. In his earlier years, he was the only federal law secretary ever who was not a judge at the time of holding of that prestigious office. It may come as a surprise to many to know that the man in the eye of the judicial storm avoids limelight as plague. He is perfectly happy playing with his little grandchild, tending to his amazingly beautiful garden, and constantly trimming and pruning his bonsai tree. And anyone could have told the president’s legal eagles that a bonsai artist is all too aware of the intricacies of making sense out of irregular and awkward branches and is the last person to settle for anything but perfection. And the government’s legal adventures are anything but perfect.