Justice Iftikhar Conferring The Medal of Freedom

Thursday, December 25, 2008

By conferring the Medal of Freedom on the de jure Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, on November 19, 2008, the Harvard Law School Association, US, has recognized that by not submitting to the will of a military dictator, General Pervaiz Musharraf, who was yearning for perpetuation of his rule on one pretext or another, Pakistan has entered a new era endowed with democracy free of fetters of the military dictatorship. With that Pakistan has been graduated to be called a democratic country in true sense of words.
‘Think differently’ was the driving force behind the revolution that brought the military dictatorship to its knees. On March 9, 2007, Justice Iftikhar thought differently from his predecessor judges of the higher judiciary and decided not to be cowed into giving the military generals what they had been asking for: resignation. Through the defiance of Justice Iftikhar, the message spread out on March 9 was loud and clear: the dictate of a military dictator could be turned down. With that, the whole nation started thinking differently: freedom from the bounds of dictatorship. Never before had the Pakistanis thought in that way and with that earnest desire. Justice Iftikhar showed the way, displayed the will and led from the front. The Pakistanis had attained independence in 1947 but had not embraced freedom yet. In the boldness of Justice Iftikhar, the Pakistanis saw their salvation.
The military regime and the pseudo-democratic dispensation burgeoning under the tutelage of Musharraf were flabbergasted at the courage of Justice Iftikhar. Indubitably, a judge who had touched the hearts of the masses by dispensing fair justice was himself in a need for justice. The poor and the deprived of the country did not dishearten him, as they had witnessed a reason for their being citizen of Pakistan whenever Justice Iftikhar took a suo moto action to help them out. Further, in the judicial activism performed by Justice Iftikhar to counterbalance the phlegmatic attitude of the executive and apathetic approach of the legislature, the masses found him strengthening the link between the citizen and the state – another reason for one to be a contented citizen of Pakistan. Resultantly, Justice Iftikhar was adorned with the medal of freedom of the Pakistani-style, when with mouth agape the world observed the masses even kissing his car whenever he was on his way to address the bars.
The message of ‘think differently’ got hold of attention of the masses. On July 20, 2007, Justice Iftikhar restored to his position of the Chief Justice. The four months (March to July) changed the outlook of the people of Pakistan; indeed, Justice Iftikhar had set off a revolution – a change in the thoughts of the Pakistanis, unprecedented in the history of Pakistan, at least – to adore and safeguard freedom. The four months brought the option of thinking differently and the motivation to seek freedom closer to each other. The interaction of the option and the motivation yielded fruit on February 18, 2008, when the politicians belonging to the Musharraf camp were humbled before the electoral decision of the Pakistanis. Again, never before had Pakistan witnessed such a change: the politicians who had produced development works both in the rural and the urban areas for five years to convince the voters of their significance were rooted out in a humiliating way and that in the presence of their military benefactor at the helm. But this was not the end of the story. This time, the powers adept at rigging the elections customarily dared not do that again; they knew that this was not the elections of 2002. Such was the strength of thinking differently to aspire for freedom.
A revolution is not defined only in context of the blood shed and the bodies fell. Quintessentially, a revolution is a name of a change in the thought process materialized in the form of action. The Harvard Law School’s Medal of Freedom honours individuals who have worked to uphold the legal system’s fundamental commitment to freedom, justice, and equality. What makes effort of Justice Iftikhar different from the other two recipients of the medal – Justice Thurgood Marshall of the US Supreme Court and South African leader Nelson Mandela who struggled primarily against racism – is that Justice Iftikhar stood for supremacy of a country’s constitution, a sacred document besmirched by every military dictator in Pakistan as if the Constitution of Pakistan were a mere collection of a few pieces of papers.
No one ever in the world has so far stood up for the supremacy of the constitution as Justice Iftikhar did – on both March 9 and November 3, 2007. Justice Iftikhar did that to fulfil his duty as a custodian of law. In the line of duty, Justice Iftikhar braved intimidation and coercion coming from the dictator’s camp. In castigation for holding the constitution supreme, Justice Iftikhar was also kept in illegal confinement at his official residence along with his family. No judge in the world had ever experienced such humiliating circumstances and faced such derogatory treatment as Justice Iftikhar had to bear for the cause of supremacy of the constitution.
Justice Iftikhar has not yet restored to his position as was before Nov-3. A few of his brother judges are still standing by him. But there are millions of Pakistanis of all hues still zealously backing him today for the great cause Justice Iftikhar jeopardized his official post. The award of the Medal of Freedom to him is also recognition of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Pakistani society is with Justice Iftikhar, so is the world; the way Justice Iftikhar has been honoured in both Pakistan and abroad speaks aloud of the veracity of his stance, besides promising the success.
Pakistan has taken almost sixty years to touch the goalpost of dictatorship-free democracy – though the vestiges of dictatorship are still lingering on owing to their vested interests. Further, those who are at the helm of the affairs have forgotten that they would not have been in the power corridors in such an overwhelming number, had Justice Iftikhar not taken stance for supremacy of the constitution. Nevertheless, the writing on the wall is absolutely clear: when the masses start thinking differently, they produce different results – whenever they find chance. The election on February 18 was the first election to display how the masses were thinking differently but it was not the last election in the history of Pakistan.

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