Zardari moves to reappoint Justice Deedar Shah
By Syed Irfan Raza
ISLAMABAD: The latest chapter of the executive-judiciary thriller ended on an exciting note on Friday when in a late-night development President Asif Ali Zardari proposed the reappointment of Justice (retd) Deedar Hussain Shah as chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The latter had been removed from the office by the Supreme Court only a day earlier.
The president proposed this in two separate letters addressed to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to meet the mandatory consultative process, Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for the president, said.
Both letters were sent to Mr Gilani who was asked to forward one to Chaudhry Nisar.
On Thursday, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had ordered the removal of Justice (retd) Shah from the office he had assumed five months ago, in response to petitions challenging his appointment. Thursday’s short order (the detailed ruling is awaited) provoked a strike call for Friday by the Sindh provincial chapter of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. That call provided the first indication that the government would not take the court order lying down.
The president’s letter, which has been released to the media, described Justice (retd) Shah as a ‘man of integrity’ recalling his services as chief justice of the Sindh High Court and a judge of the Supreme Court.
“The honorable leader of the opposition in the National Assembly is requested to kindly consider the proposal of appointment of Justice (retd) Deedar Hussain Shah as chairman of NAB and convey his views in this behalf,” the president’s letter signed by Secretary Malik Asif Hayat said.
In the letter, the president has also taken note of the earlier objections to the appointment, including the criticism that he had “political affiliation with the ruling political party”.
The president said: “Deedar Shah remained member of the Sindh provincial assembly long before he was appointed as judge of the Sindh High Court in 1994. He was appointed as judge of the Sindh High Court keeping in view of his vast professional experience and unquestionable integrity….”
In addition, the letter also quotes the 1996 Supreme Court judgment in Al-Jehad Trust case that had settled the issue of political affiliation of a candidate for a judicial post by concluding that political affiliation alone might not disqualify a candidate.
However, the initial response from the main opposition party – Pakistan
Muslim League-N was not positive. PML-N Secretary Information Ahsan Iqbal said his party’s view on Deedar Shah was unchanged.
“We believe that the transparent process of accountability cannot take place if a controversial man is appointed as the NAB chairman,” he said, adding that Chaudhry Nisar had so far not received the letter of the president.
Farhatullah Babar said that the letter also pointed out that former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif had in 2000 expressed full confidence in Justice (retd) Shah.
Though this letter was released to the media late at night, it was clear during the day that the PPP-led executive was not going to acquiesce to the court orders. Sindh protested the judgment all day long; the ruling party in the provincial assembly passed a resolution condemning the decision and later its MPAs marched towards the Sindh High Court to register their protest.
At the same time, the PPP officials in Islamabad dropped broad hints about their plans.
“We are thinking about the reappointment of Deedar Shah as the NAB chairman,” said Law Minister Babar Awan while talking to reporters outside the Supreme Court building during the day. He added that “The office of NAB should not be vacant even for a day.”
However, it remains to be seen how the judiciary reacts to the president’s move. After all, apart from the opposition’s continued antagonism to Deedar Shah, it is also not clear if he can be ‘re-appointed’. Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood, a legal expert, has raised the question as to whether or not an individual could be made NAB chairman for the second term because the second appointment of former Prosecutor General Irfan Qadir was challenged in the apex court on the same grounds. Mr Qadir was sent home under the court orders.
NAB was created by the administration of former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf. The position of its chairman has always been deemed controversial since he can ‘selectively’ pursue accountability cases against the opposition. Partly to address this controversy, the 18th Constitutional Amendment required the prime minister to consult the opposition before making the appointment.