NYT : Chief Justice of Pakistan Says Musharraf Pressed Him to resign

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Chief Justice of Pakistan Says Musharraf Pressed Him to resign

By SALMAN MASOOD and CARLOTTA GALL | Published: May 29, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 29 — Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the suspended chief justice of Pakistan, said today in a signed affidavit to the Supreme Court that on March 9, he was detained all afternoon against his will at the Army House in Rawalpindi, and was pressed to resign by the president of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and by four senior military and intelligence chiefs, most of them in uniform.

The affidavit was filed by one of Mr. Chaudhry’s lawyers, Aitzaz Ahsan, at a Supreme Court hearing concerning the suspension of the Chief Justice. His lawyers later provided copies to reporters.

The document offers the first detailed account of the March 9 encounter from Mr. Chaudhry, whose refusal to resign or accept being dismissed has attracted widespread support and created a political crisis for Mr. Musharraf.

There was no immediate government reaction to the affidavit. Mr. Musharraf has tried to play down the significance of the March 9 encounter, and has said that the government is merely examining complaints of misconduct against the chief justice, whose term was scheduled to run through 2011.

When Mr. Ahsan told the presiding judge today that he had filed the affidavit after completing his arguments in court, Justice Khalilur Rahman Ramday, who heads the 13-member court, replied: “You should not have done that.”

Mr. Chaudhry faces charges of misconduct and nepotism that originally were put before a five-judge inquiry panel called the Supreme Judicial Council. Those charges formed the basis of Mr. Musharraf’s request for Mr. Chaudhry’s resignation on March 9.

Mr. Chaudhry denied the allegations, and is now challenging them before the Supreme Court. His lawyers say that the president and the military chiefs have no authority under the country’s constitution to remove a chief justice.

In the first week of May, the Supreme Court suspended the proceedings of the inquiry panel, and instead ordered that the full court hear Mr. Chaudhry’s petition challenging the panel’s authority and impartiality. It is unclear when the Supreme Court will reach a decision in the case; lawyers say the hearings could go on for months.

Mr. Musharraf’s own future may depend on the outcome. He is likely to face several legal challenges in the Supreme Court this year as he seeks reelection as president while continuing to serve as chief of the army staff, the highest military post in the country. Seven and a half years after Mr. Musharraf seized power in a coup, calls are growing around the country for a change from military rule.

In the affidavit, Mr. Chaudhry says he arrived at the military headquarters in Rawalpindi for a planned meeting with the president at about 11:30 a.m. on March 9. When Mr. Musharraf met Mr. Chaudhry, the president was wearing military fatigues, the affidavit says, and he told Mr. Chaudhry of a complaint lodged against him by a judge from a provincial High Court. Mr. Chaudhry said the complaint was baseless.

According to the account, Mr. Musharraf then told Mr. Chaudhry that there were a few more complaints, and directed his staff to call in the prime minister, Shaukat Aziz.

At this point, the affidavit says, three top officials of Pakistani’s intelligence services entered the room: Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani, the director general of Inter Services Intelligence; Maj. Gen. Nadeem Ijaz, the director general of Military Intelligence and a close relative of President Musharraf; and Aijaz Shah, a retired brigadier who directs the country’s Intelligence Bureau.

With them was retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Javed, the president’s chief of staff. Mr. Chaudhry mentioned the four officials by their titles alone, and said that two of them were in civilian clothing, the others in uniform.

Mr. Musharraf demanded to know how it was that the chief justice drove a Mercedes car, and said there had been complaints that Mr. Chaudhry had interfered in proceedings in another provincial high court, according to the affidavit. The president then insisted that Mr. Chaudhry resign from the supreme court, and if he agreed to do so, the president promised to “accommodate him,” the affidavit says.

Mr. Chaudhry says he responded: “I have not violated any code of conduct or any law, rule or regulation; I believe that I am myself the guardian of law. I strongly believe in God who will help me.”

This answer “ignited the fury” of Mr. Musharraf, who stood up angrily, told Mr. Chaudhry that the officers would show him the evidence gathered against him, and left the room along with his staff and the prime minister, the affidavit continues. Over the next four hours, Mr. Chaudhry said, the senior officers other than Mr. Shah repeatedly pressed him to resign, but presented him with no evidence.

Mr. Musharraf said in a recent television interview that he was dressed in uniform that day because of other military commitments he had later in the day. The president also denied that he had called the meeting in order to remove the chief justice from his post, and said that the chief justice had requested the meeting. Mr. Musharraf said he mentioned the complaints about the chief justice’s conduct only because they had recently been brought to his attention.

The prime minister has declined to comment on Mr. Chaudhry or the events surrounding his suspension because the matter is before the court. The information minister, Muhammad Ali Durrani, said that all cabinet ministers were under strict instruction not to comment on the proceedings. The chief military spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Chaudhry said in his affidavit that for four hours on that March afternoon, he was prevented from leaving the room where he had met with the president, and was monitored on a closed-circuit video camera. Finally, after 5 p.m., General Ijaz told Mr. Chaudhry that he could go home.

“This is a bad day, now you are taking a separate way,” General Ijaz said, according to the affidavit.

Mr. Chaudhry was further informed that he was “restrained to work as a judge of the Supreme Court or Chief Justice of Pakistan.”

He said he was allowed to leave just two minutes after a new acting chief justice, Javed Iqbal, was sworn in on a live television broadcast, according to Muneer Malik, the president of the supreme court bar association and one of Mr. Chaudhry’s defense lawyers.

When Mr. Chaudhry reached his car, he saw that the flag and emblem had been removed and his escort was missing. His driver was crying, Mr. Malik said.

Mr. Chaudhry tried to return to his office, but was blocked from reaching it by soldiers, who ordered him to go home, he said. There he and his personal staff were kept under house arrest for several days, prevented from communicating with anyone outside the house or from seeing television broadcasts, and his children were prevented from going to school, the affidavit said, all in effort to pressure him to resign.