Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
In a historic move for Pakistan, the Supreme Court summoned retired Lt. General Faiz Hameed, a former spy chief, and Brigadier Irfan Ramay. However, it declined to summon former army chief Qamar Javaid Bajwa and Brigadier Faisal Marwat. Additionally, notices were issued to Arbab Mohammad Arif, former registrar of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and former Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court Anwar Kansi. This action came after allegations made by Mr. Shaukat Siddique, a former Judge of the Islamabad High Court, accusing them of manipulating judicial proceedings, influencing bench formations favorable to the ISI, and seeking their approval for court decisions. The Supreme Court is seeking their responses and perspectives on these allegations.
While the appearance of these retired army officers in court remains uncertain, historical precedent suggests that Supreme Court summonses have often faced challenges in securing compliance. Past cases have been stalled or dismissed due to diverse factors, including political influence and military resistance to cooperation.
In the present political landscape, where there’s a widespread perception that the military exerts significant influence across all state domains, including the judiciary, the act of issuing summons to these officers represents a substantial leap forward in the country’s judicial history.
During an open hearing, the Chief Justice issued these summons, and the live telecast of the proceedings offered the entire population an engaging experience in the said case.
To better understand this significant case, it’s essential to delve into its background. Mr. Shoukat Siddique was unceremoniously removed from service under Article 209(6) of the Constitution of Pakistan.
The President acted upon the recommendation of a five-member Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which found the Judge guilty of misconduct and behavior unbecoming of a Judge due to a speech he delivered before the Rawalpindi District Bar Association in July 2021.
During his speech, Justice Siddique alleged that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) personnel were interfering in judicial proceedings. He claimed that the ISI was exerting pressure on Chief Justice Muhammad Anwar of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to form benches with judges influenced by the intelligence agency. Moreover, he asserted that non-compliant judges were being removed from these benches under ISI’s influence. He further alleged that the ISI compelled the IHC Chief Justice to prolong the imprisonment of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter until the 2018 elections and excluded Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui from the bench handling Sharifs’ appeals. Following this speech, a reference was filed on July 31 before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), charging Justice Siddiqui for accusing the establishment of manipulating judicial proceedings.
There were additional references filed against the judge. One was filed by a retired Capital Development Authority (CDA) employee, alleging the refurbishment of the judge’s official residence beyond entitlement. Another show-cause notice was issued to Justice Siddiqui under Article 209 (5)(6) of the Constitution by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) based on a reference moved by Advocate Kulsum Khaliq, representing former National Assembly member Jamshed Ahmed Dasti. This reference alleged that the high court judge objected to a compromise between the federal government and the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah during a hearing on a case related to the 20-day Faizabad sit-in. The compromise had been facilitated by the armed forces. Following scrutiny of the reference, a meeting of the SJC on Feb 6 determined that the judge was guilty of misconduct and should be issued a show-cause notice in this regard.
The timing of the appeal’s scheduling after a prolonged delay holds significant weight. Back in 2018, there was a perceived alignment between the judicial system and the army leadership to bring Imran Khan to power. During that time, anyone perceived as an obstacle to this alignment was either removed, marginalized, or silenced.
However, the current tide seems to favor Nawaz Sharif and is against Imran Khan. In this scenario, there’s speculation that individuals involved in Nawaz Sharif’s removal will face consequences, while those who supported him will be rewarded. This could potentially mean that Mr. Shoukat Siddique might be in line for recognition or reward, whereas General Faiz Hameed and his associates could face repercussions.
This situation aligns with Nawaz Sharif’s recent national address, where he emphasized his return not for seeking retribution but to hold accountable those judges and bureaucrats, both civilian and military, who he claims were instrumental in his ousting from power. He highlighted the imprisonment of himself, his daughter, and close associates based on what he believes were unjust and fabricated charges.
During the proceedings, the judges adamantly pledged not to favor any party, yet they guided the lawyers to connect the case with a broader cause rather than framing it solely as absolving the judge from charges of misconduct.
The Supreme Court bench, comprising all five members, maintained a stern approach, often reprimanding and intimidating the lawyers who displayed remarkable restraint. The session seemed at a standstill at one point, with the Chief Justice suggesting that the case might not revolve around a significant national issue but rather the restoration of the judge’s pension. He even summoned the attorney general for input on this matter.
The proceedings took a turn when the Chief Justice and another judge urged the lawyers to explicitly name the individuals and institutions allegedly involved in manipulating court proceedings in their favor. They emphasized the need for clarity instead of using vague terms like “establishment” or “certain elements.”
One judge consistently pressed the lawyer about the alleged requests and influence of the ISI regarding the inclusion or removal of judges from specific benches, as well as their demand to keep Nawaz and Maryam in custody until the 2018 elections. The lawyer affirmed that all these requests were meticulously adhered to.
The judges pressed the petitioner’s lawyers to establish why they deemed the issues raised to be of national significance affecting the state and its institutions. They also directed the lawyers to provide a list of individuals they believed should appear in court to clarify their positions regarding the allegations against them.
The lawyers presented a comprehensive list of individuals they wished to cross-examine. To the surprise of everyone, the first name brought up was that of Retired General Qamar Javaid Bajwa. When asked for justification, the lawyer mentioned a statement by former ISI Chief General Faiz Hameed claiming that the Army Chief was displeased with him for his failure to manage a situation involving a high court judge in matters concerning the Army and ISI. The Chief Justice dismissed this as hearsay without evidence. However, after extensive debate, they agreed to issue summons to four accused individuals.
While the allegations made by former Justice Shoukat Siddique are gravely serious, substantiating them with concrete evidence poses a formidable challenge. Within legal proceedings, assertions lacking substantial evidence may not wield considerable influence.
Evidence plays a pivotal role in court, and unsupported claims might be deemed hearsay or speculation, lacking the weight required to sway the case. The burden of proof often rests on the accuser or plaintiff to furnish evidence substantiating their claims. Unsupported allegations may be deemed inadmissible or carry little weight in influencing the court’s decision. Courts typically rely on credible and verifiable evidence to establish facts and reach judgments.
Furthermore, experienced spymasters possess the skill to meticulously erase any traces of their meetings, conversations, or manipulations. They deploy an array of techniques to obfuscate their locations, eliminate evidence, and, in extreme situations, neutralize witnesses. Their methods involve sophisticated evasion tactics, including altering appearances and utilizing burner phones to avoid surveillance. They employ encryption to scramble messages and files, making them unreadable without the requisite decryption key. Prior to disposal, they securely wipe data from devices like phones or laptops. Additionally, they leverage tools like VPNs, Tor, and other anonymizing technologies to obscure online activities and mask their IP addresses.
Considering the current political and security landscape, the trajectory of proceedings in this case will likely be subject to the discretion of the military establishment. It will likely continue as far as permitted by the army and cease as they deem fit. Nonetheless, the issuance of notices to retired army leadership marks a step in the right direction.
It is crucial for the greater interests of the army as an institution, politicians, and the judiciary to ensure that the case proceeds strictly according to the constitution and the law. Adhering to these principles will strengthen the army, bolster democracy, and ultimately promote progress and prosperity for the people of the country.