Being a judge in Pakistan is a tough job. All other equally powerful positions seem easier. If you are the Chief of Army Staff, the job description single-pronged — fight the enemy. If you are the Prime Minister, your task is simply to keep the establishment happy. But when you are a judge, the job description is complex. Your main function is to provide justice.
You don’t have to climb mountains to do this, all you must do is read a pile of papers, listen to the lawyers’ arguments, and make a decision that will impact countless lives — sometimes 220 million lives.
Acts that we cannot see, such as the provision of justice, forgiving someone or loving someone, need the most courage. In 2014, no one, especially the men in uniform, could have imagined that a Pakistani judge, (late) Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth would dare to convict a former military dictator.
General Musharraf was indicted on 31st March, 2014 on 5 charges. These included the offence of High Treason by unlawfully issuing Proclamation of Emergency Order 2007 and the suspension of fundamental rights. After years of pendency, General Musharraf was convicted by the Special Court under a bench headed by former Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court, Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth.
Justice Seth did not take cover under his pen by twisting his words and giving an illegal reign a green pass. His judgement forever dented the power of the establishment.
A False Freedom
This write-up may seem more about hating General Musharraf, than a tribute to Justice Seth, but this is exactly what made Justice Seth great.
Because of what he did to General Pervez Musharaff, I have a soft corner for Nawaz Sharif. His decision to prosecute General Pervez Musharraf, a military dictator, won my heart. Even if he did it to take personal revenge, this single action may have curbed our trajectory to lawlessness. As a citizen of Pakistan and a resident of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa I will never forget the relentless suicide blasts and drone attacks, culminating in the massacre of children at Army Public School. Watching General Musharraf go to court for the two appearances he made, under strict security, scuffling between hundreds of people, did however, somewhat dull my pain.
In an article titled “Pervez Musharraf: Pakistan ex-leader sentenced to death for treason”, BBC wrote: “The indictment of Gen Musharraf in 2014 for treason was a highly significant moment in a country where the military has held sway for much of its independent history. Many of Pakistan’s army chiefs have ruled the country directly after coups, but Gen Musharraf was the first army chief to be charged with such a crime and the powerful military have watched the case carefully.”
After the ruling, General Musharraf challenged the formation of Justice Seth’s Special Court before the Lahore High Court. The former general never didn’t challenge the same before because he didn’t believe he could be convicted. He thought the Special Court benches would keep changing due to fear of the army. Eventually, the Lahore High Court did side with the exiled general. One international headline read: “General Musharraf is a free man”.
However, General Musharraf’s freedom is only on paper. He and his supporters know are well aware that he is not a free man. As much respect I have for the judges who turned down the decision of the Special Court convicting, I will always have more respect for Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth.
A Great Judge
Justice Seth’s lawfulness helped Pakistan’s case before the International Court of Justice in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case. It was because of him that various death penalties awarded by Military Courts were suspended. It was because of him that Pakistan has a reputation of an independent judiciary. His judgements have taken the bite out of the fact that Pakistan is still conducting military trials and that consular access had been denied to Kulbhushan Jadhav, despite us being in the 21st Century.
Lawyers, journalists, policemen and judges: all know that they should stay away from certain matters if they value their safety. Amongst those matters, the two that enjoy that same status in our system are religion and establishment related matters. A judge is expected to be the best and bravest of judges in all matters. He should not shy from sentencing a murderer, a criminal gang or a rapist, but when it comes to dispensing justice to a religious extremist or to a man in uniform the judge is expected to concede. If the judge does not concede, they might face dire consequences.
Judges in Pakistan are expected to free a criminal if the criminal is very privileged, like a General. Most judges, when faced with indicting a former military dictator would excuse themselves from the case using all possible means. The judge could wait for their transfer, not let the case proceed in a swift manner, or somehow throw the case in someone else’s court.
Fear and Aspiration
Some lawyers, judges, and journalists, however, are unable to let go of their aspirations. They continue to perform their work indiscriminately. Take Asma Jehangir for instance, despite all odds she firmly stood her ground. She did not flinch while challenging deeply powerful men.
Some people knowingly endanger their lives and take the obviously forbidden route. This is because some people simply just cannot let go of their aspirations. Hamid Mir knows that if he steers just a little, he could receive much material gain, but then he would cease being Hamid Mir. He would just be another well paid anchor.
Speaking the truth despite dangers is exactly what gives people like Hamid Mir true gratification. Such people have already made peace with possible consequences.
The people we thoughtlessly accuse of being dishonest merely on the basis of our ideology of life are in fact listening to the beat of some other drummer. A man like Justice Saqib Nisar despite having retired from an honourable position as the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan left no legacy behind. All he left behind is countless jokes about him. But a man like Justice Seth leaves more than legacy behind. Men like him leave behind hope. Although he is no more among us, the hope he ignited in us may pave the way for countless others. Justice Seth passed away in November 2020 after struggling with Covid-19.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s case is similar. All the allegations against Justice Isa and all the attempts are ridiculing his family were brought forward in the hope that Justice Isa will succumb to the wounds. His enemies wanted him to resign. Instead, Justice Isa stood firm in the face of daily ridicule.
This steadfastness is the hope this nation needs. People like Justice Seth and Justice Isa remind us that there are still honourable people left in this country. These good people would rather face ridicule and a bullet than sacrifice what they believe in.