LAHORE: Toeing in the footsteps of one of his predecessors Yousaf Raza Gilani, incumbent Pakistani Premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi became only the second head of government in the recent history when he decided to call on the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Gilani had also met Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary on a Tuesday, in what seemed a concerted effort at that time to defuse the crisis between Executive and Judicial branches of the state. Just over eight years ago, on February 16, 2010, the-then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had surprised many when he reached the Supreme Court 'uninvited' to attend a reception hosted by Chief Justice of the time Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, in honour of Justice (retird) Khalilur Rehman Ramday, who had retired on January 12 of the same year.
The February 2010 dinner was attended by judges of the Supreme Court, Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan who retired on February 9, 2010, Chief Election Commissioner Hamid Ali Mirza, Supreme Court Bar Association President Qazi Mohammad Anwar and senior lawyers Aitzaz Ahsan, S.M. Zafar, Tariq Mehmood, Khalid Anwar and late Iqbal Haider etc.
By the way, PM Gilani's meeting with the-then Chief Justice Iftihar Chaudhary had also irked opposition in February 2010, though independent observers had seen the flurry of activities by the-then prime minister as a serious bid to convince the judiciary that the PPP government was in no mood to confront it.
Gilani's initiative had come against the backdrop of three days of dramatic events in February 2010. The series of these no-ordinary events had begun with the suspension by a special SC bench of the president's notifications elevating LHC Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif to the Supreme Court and appointing Justice Saqib Nisar as acting chief justice in his place. Agitation by lawyers and political activists followed.
And last but not least, followed the opposition's boycott of the National Assembly proceedings! Research shows that the tug of war between the executive and the judiciary had started when the-then President Asif Zardari had ignored a request of the chief justice to appoint Justice Ramday as an ad hoc judge after his retirement.
The Prime Minister was warmly greeted by the Chief Justice himself. Gilani later exchanged pleasantries on the main dinner table. Former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan, was among the occupants who broke the bread together on the front table. A media house had quoted the Chief Justice as saying: "Why did you take the trouble, you just have called us."
The Chief Justice had uttered the above words while welcoming and shaking hands with the prime minister. Before leaving the venue after an hour, Premier Gilani had told media men that he was there with a good gesture and to invite the chief justice.
Gilani was quoted as saying: "I have asked the Chief Justice to consider the Prime Minister's House his own and come over there on February 17, 2010 (Wednesday)." The media house had added: "He evaded a question about the president's notifications, but when asked whether his meeting should be considered as advent of a new era of harmony between the executive and the judiciary, the prime minister said "You will see it by 3'O clock tomorrow." Mr Gilani said "I have always maintained that there is no misunderstanding between us, but when it did not work I had to come myself to prove this." Asked if his aides were misleading him through wrong advices, he said he had already told parliament that for every mistake there was a remedy. "This is our own country and we have to work united; we have differences."
The newspaper under review had maintained: "Aitzaz Ahsan who, according to some people, paved the way by covertly acting as a mediator between the prime minister and the chief justice, praised the prime minister for coming over to the function. He said Mr Gilani had acted wisely and his initiative would help lower the "prevailing temperature." Before coming to the dinner, Mr Gilani called Nawaz Sharif and greeted him on the rejection by the Lahore High Court of an application seeking his disqualification for elections." Remember, during the morning (the same day Gilani had gone to Supreme Court uninvited), he had backtracked from his assertion in the National Assembly that 2009's executive order of restoring judges still needed the parliament's approval.
Interesting reactions from anti-PPP government quarters on Yousaf Raza Gilani-Iftikhar Chaudhary meeting of February 16, 2010:
Premier's Gilani's meeting with the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary had invoked a few interesting reactions from the anti-PPP government quarters, who felt that the event might have mellowed down the Government-Judiciary tiff a bit by spreading smiles all over, but it had certainly pained thousands of litigants across the country who had pinned high hopes in an otherwise widely-deemed independent judicial system since March 2007.
These litigants, many of whom had provided energy to the Chief Justice by practically expressing solidarity with him on the roads after he was deposed twice by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf in 2007,viewed that if the Prime Minister could meet the Supreme Court judges at such ease while he was actually defending the NRO beneficiaries in his cabinet despite explicit Supreme Court orders to treat the allegedly corrupt elements in accordance with the law, then a commoner should also have the right to meet the judges and defend himself in a ‘more congenial’ and ‘more informal’ environment.
These anti-PPP regime circles had opined that while the nation was already disturbed by an unprecedented backlog of cases in courts due to one reason or the other, the Premier’s meeting with the Chief Justice over a sumptuous supper might have actually rubbed salt on the wounds of the waiting litigants.
They had argued that while the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in August 2009, had exhorted his country’s judiciary "to wipe every tear of every waiting litigant" by eliminating the scourge of a huge backlog of cases, his Pakistani counterpart was making every effort to prevent his cabinet members from facing law rather than convincing the country’s President to appoint the judges in time to minimize the miseries of the waiting litigants.
Having accorded a warm welcome to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani at February 16, 2010 dinner, Pakistan’s Chief Justice had thus disappointed many who had been lauding the brave and revolutionary actions initiated by him to uphold the supremacy of law and relaying the seed of an independent judiciary by swimming against the tide in a country like Pakistan, which had been ruled by Military and Civil dictators for most part of its history.
These anti-PPP quarters had wondered that if the Chief Justice’s action in discussion was in line with the set procedures governing the role, functions and ethics of judges, a subject which was being widely debated on the planet.