Pakistani Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry became a national hero when he raised legal questions about President Musharraf’s bid to serve another term, defied his order to resign and ignited a civil revolution in support of an independent judiciary. As part of a national speaking tour, Justice Chaudhry visited Penn Law School last November to speak about the rule of law and judicial independence in Pakistan.
“What I did was what any independent judge who believed in the sanctity of the Constitution and in the independence of the judiciary would do,” said Justice Chaudhry, who addressed a standing-room-only crowd.
President Musharraf imposed martial law when he realized that the Supreme Court would not rule in his favor. He deposed Chaudhry and 60 other judges and detained thousands of lawyers.
His action united Pakistanis and proved to be Musharraf’s undoing. In response to Musharraf’s assault on the judiciary, the Supreme Court Bar Association organized a nationwide march to Islamabad, the nation’s capital, to demand the reinstatement of the judges. The turnout, which numbered in the thousands and included lawyers, business owners, students, political workers and civil society members, was unprecedented.
“Never in the history of the country have such a large number of people traveled for hundreds of miles, and gathered in one place peacefully, and without a single unpleasant incident or casualty,” said Chaudhry.
Pakistanis ultimately rejected Musharraf’s martial law, held elections and forced him to resign in August 2007. Chaudhry, who spent five months under house arrest, said maintenance of the rule of law through an independent judiciary is essential for good governance anywhere, but especially in a new democracy such as Pakistan. In new democracies, independent judiciaries can “strengthen democratic institutions and bring about national unity and cohesion,” he said.
He refused to accept the hero label. “I represent the thousand of lawyers who have been fighting for an independent judiciary and the rule of law. I represent the countless Pakistanis who stood alongside the lawyers and have endured all kinds of atrocities. I represent the brave and valiant reporters and journalists of the Pakistani media, who have also experienced every possible hurdle, including not only risking their lives but actually sacrificing their lives because of what they stood for and what they were not prepared to compromise.”
Pakistani’s struggle for judicial independence “will go down in history as a decisive moment in the evolution of Pakistan to ensure the supremacy of the Constitution,” said Chaudhry.
Chaudhry was released from house arrest after Yousuf Raza was confirmed as Prime Minister in March 2008.