|Sacked Chief Justice summoned for hearing|
ISLAMABAD: Opposition political parties in Pakistan have criticised the removal of the Chief Justice on charges of misuse of authority and misconduct as a politically motivated move by President Pervez Musharraf that would have grave consequences for the judiciary and for the country.
Chief Justice Ifthikhar Chaudhary was rendered "non-functional" after Gen. Musharraf summoned him to his office on Friday and confronted him with a series of allegations to which he reportedly had no "satisfactory response".
Justice Javed Iqbal, the second senior-most judge, was immediately sworn in as the acting Chief Justice. A presidential notification said Justice Chaudhary "is unable to perform his functions as Chief Justice" as a presidential reference had been filed against him in the Supreme Judicial Council.
The removal is being described as a ``suspension" and not as dismissal. The Council, Pakistan's highest judicial panel, has summoned Mr. Chaudhary for a hearing on March 13. It is being speculated that Mr. Chaudhary may hand in his resignation before that. Noting that the Supreme Court would be called upon to make pronouncements on issues such as the President seeking another term from the existing electoral college, the spokesman for the People's Party of Pakistan, Farahtullah Babar, said, "Many would be forced to conclude that the removal of the CJ is motivated by political considerations with the goal to manipulate the judiciary". Known as an "activist" judge, Mr Chaudhary crossed paths with the Government several times.
Most recently, on his orders, Pakistan's intelligence agencies had to produce several "disappeared" persons who they had been holding secretly on suspicion that they were linked to the Al-Qaeda.
The case, still before the court, is proving to be a major embarrassment for the Government.
Another blow for the Government was his annulment of the privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills. PPP parliamentarian Aitzaz Ahsan said the move was aimed at "degrading the independence of the judiciary" with "serious implications" for the country as a whole. He said it was "a move with the coming elections in mind".
The charges of misconduct against the Chief Justice include his alleged insistence on a guard of honour while he was visiting Peshawar, requisitioning luxury government cars, planes and helicopters for his personal travel and helping his son join the police service despite his having failed the English paper of the civil services examination. Among the charges also are his conduct towards lawyers in court, discrepancies between his verbal and written orders, and the BMW 7 series car that his son is said to own. But several Opposition leaders said that considering there were corruption charges against many in high office, they found it hard to swallow that these charges were the only reason for his removal.
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