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March 26, 2018



Messiah in our midst

We have a messiah in our midst: the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Honourable Justice Saqib Nisar. In an amazingly insightful interview with Javed Chaudhry, reproduced partly and paraphrased in the latter’s Urdu column last week, the CJ held forth on a range of subjects. More importantly, he spoke his mind and heart out.

From providing service to the public to being a knight in shining armour for the cause of people’s welfare, the CJ did not leave anything to speculation as to which end of life was he coming from. The interview tells you that he is a man whose mind is made about the present-day rulers and their governance. It tells you that he will not rest or relent until he sorts out the system and with it those who are running it.

This is quite moving. But it also makes him a different kettle of fish. Even the most intrusive and interventionist judges, heading strong-armed judiciaries, remain wedded to the confines of their constitutional responsibilities. They occasionally decide cases by radically interpreting their mandate in controversial judgments but never mix their drinks with reformers and revolutionaries. That was the reason that when even the most populist, and at one time most publicly visible, judge like ex-CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry mounted the horse of rallies, the arenas of his speeches were not open to the public. Even the media was kept out of the perimeters where he and other lawyers spoke. That kept appearances of a legal resistance to the unconstitutional acts of General Pervez Musharraf and detached the legal platform from the general public and its myriad issues.

Honourable CJ Saqib Nisar has no time for such subtleties. He has developed a full philosophy of ‘Public Service First’. He has invented, borrowed and used without reluctance the metaphor of the fictional village old man who guides the deviant to the right path. He has committed himself to uprooting the present-day governance order and as a consequence dent the political system that perpetuates it. His take on his job, as reflected in his interview, transcends the credos judges live and operate by. He wants to do something for the suffering humanity; and he wants to do it now.

This is the profile usually associated with men with missions, not with judges whose most extraordinary exploits flow out of and go back to the books of the law and are not displayed in the galleries of populism. Clearly, the honourable CJ believes that this is his time and the power that he wields on account of his privileged position can be harnessed to ‘serve humanity’.

Yet the saviour’s path is littered with some serious questions. The first of these relates to who the messiah is. From the times of the Greeks to the modern-day interpretation of the concept, messiahs have all come from outside the system. They did not build their base from the keystones of exploitative systems, reached the pinnacle of their carefully crafted professional paths through the usual means that the system allows and then a year before retirement thought of paying their dues to humanity. Late-in-the-day saviours, who could well have seen the light, are seldom taken seriously nor do their escapades have any meaningful and durable outcomes.

The honourable CJ is to take off the glorious robe of his office in a few months from now. Even the Almighty’s chosen ones in ancient times took five times as many years to simply get their head around the challenge of fixing the system that Divinity had mandated them to reform. Many among those installed and anointed by God spent a lifetime preparing their audience to at least properly receive and understand the holy message. In recent times, Edhi, Mother Teresa, Ruth Pfau all spent torturous decades to reach the point from where they could truly serve the people. Also, none of them operated as a beneficiary of the system and used its resources to become the go-to guy for the wretched of the earth. They were private servants of humanity, not office-bearers in a structure of power. They lived and died serving. They did not retire their passion because they did not have to retire from any profession.

For anyone in the position of the honourable CJ, there is an expiry date on the bleeding heart work. He is able to speak as a reformer only because he happens to be a judge in service. Out of his office, he would be just another face in the thick crowd of those who spend their post-retirement years narrating tales of their legendary achievements against the system while drawing heavy privileges and perks from the very system. Put simply, this particular type of messiahs is illusory, ephemeral and in many cases just a mirage sustained by a show of smoke and mirrors.

In order to prove that he is different and that his discovery of love for the country’s downtrodden is not skin-deep, the honourable CJ has to pull the full weight of his office and his institution in support of his crusade. This is where it gets even more complicated. The way Justice (now retired) Dost Muhammad Khan has left his post – with the parting gesture of declining a full court farewell reference – is just a tip of the vast divisions in the court room. Also, the remarks and observations by Justice Faez Isa in recent cases about the Panama case verdict – the starting point of the messiah mindset – show in clear light how these acts in the service of humanity are valued within the judicial ranks. Of course the full extent of this jarring division within will not come out anytime soon – but it shall come out nonetheless.

But even now anyone with his ear close to the grounds of the chambers of the brother judges can tell you how missionary acts of the messiahs are seen in their own courtyards. They are seen as detrimental to the very ethos on which the superior judicial order is based.

The honourable CJ can neither do everything on his own nor can he create a full-spectrum unanimity of views within his court about an interventionist, adventurist judicial behaviour. That puts him in a very awkward situation and when Aitezaz Ahsan tells him to his face that he is looking tense these days, he is making a point that is more than just spleen-venting over being fined a couple of thousand rupees.

Then there is politics. Missionary work is lovely if it is even-handed. The pie-chart of the actions taken by the honourable CJ makes him look like a saviour who is centred on Punjab and Karachi only, leaving the rest of Pakistan to the vagaries of the usual oppression and injustice. He has not taken his love for humanity to Balochistan and Khyber ­tunkhwa and has meticulously avoided the mindboggling sorrows of the citizens that are on display every day in local courts. He has been kind to Rao Anwar and doubly gracious to Shahid Masood. He has left Khadim Hussain Rizvi to be dealt with by others and has not let this urge for justice surge in the direction of events like the Baldia Factory massacre, May 12 killings or mega terrorist events of the recent past that contain astounding tales of incompetence and dereliction of duty. The Senate elections controversy involving allegations of billions has not moved him much nor have matters involving real-estate tycoons and other powers that be.

There is every possibility that he is one man who can’t do everything and therefore is bound to prioritise his missions but it nonetheless paints him in partisan light – not as a man with a mission but a messiah with an agenda endorsed and approved elsewhere.

Fair or not, when messiahs get styled like partisan kingmakers and when they are embroiled in power struggles, the end of their toils is more harmful than productive. History’s lessons are quite clear in this regard. Let us see if the honourable CJ can defy these lessons and make new history.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Email: syedtalathussain@

Twitter: @TalatHussain12