April Issue 2007
Interview: Naeem Bukhari
“I wanted that I be treated in the same manner as he treats Sharifuddin Pirzada”
– Naeem Bukhari
While almost all Pakistani lawyers, in an unprecedented show of solidarity for Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, brought the country’s legal system to a virtual halt for several days, there was one voice of dissent that sparked the entire controversy: senior lawyer and popular TV anchor Naeem Bukhari. It was Bukhari who wrote the letter against Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry that is said to have set the presidential reference rolling.
An anchor for Hum TV’s Andaz Apna Apna, a reluctant Naeem Bukhari agreed to be put on the mat in the same programme by Mazhar Abbas. After this interview, at least three people he named in the letter — Justice (r) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, PPP-P leader Babar Awan and advocate Sheikh Akram — have disowned that they had any role in it.
Meanwhile, Bukhari claims he was inundated with scores of emails from lawyers who appreciated his letter, and then there was this noted businessman who called him up and assured him of his support.
Newsline reproduces excerpts from a transcript of the interview conducted at Naeem Bukhari’s Islamabad residence.
Q: Do you regret your letter against Justice Chaudhry, particularly now, when it is being rumoured that your letter formed the basis of the reference against the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) that led to him being made non-functional?
A: No, I have no regrets. I own each and every word of it, and I would write it again.
Q: But your own colleagues have disowned you?
A: I respect their views. Hamid Khan and Munir Malik are my mentors. I have not written the letter in one sitting. In fact, I did discuss it with PPP leader Babar Awan. I did not show him the letter, but he did agree with my intent to write a letter to the CJP. The other person whom I discussed the letter with was Sheikh Akram. I even asked him if he’d defend me in case any action was taken against me, and he said he would. The third person to whom I actually showed the contents of the letter was my wife. She asked me about the worst-case scenario in case the letter was published. I told her that I may be sentenced to six months to a year. Her reply was, “It’s not such a big sacrifice if you think you are on the right path.”
However, Hamid Khan did tell me that by writing this letter I had created problems for him.
Q: There is a general public perception that the publication of your letter against the suspended CJP was meant to please your friend, General Pervez Musharraf?
A: He is not my friend, nor was I trying to please him. Is he my friend because I interviewed him seven times or because at some function he asked me, “How are you, Naeem?” There were genuine reasons for writing that letter to the Chief Justice. It has to do with a lawyer’s dignity. I have great regard for Justice Chaudhry. I, in fact, wanted him to be the Chief Justice and played my role in it. But he disappointed me and many others because of his arrogance.
Q: But you do realise that the contents of your letter could have provided the basis of the reference against him?
A: I don’t know because I have not seen the reference. I wrote the letter on February 16. I was surprised why the Chief Justice did not take suo moto action against me. He could have tried me for contempt. I was prepared for that. A lawyer filed a contempt of court petition against me and the petition did come up for hearing, but surprisingly it was withdrawn.
I sent the letter to all Bar Associations, senior lawyers, but no Bar took any action against me. It was only after this reference [was filed] that I was told that the Punjab Bar Council had suspended my membership. (Bukhari’s counsel, Aftab Gul, later told me that the cancellation of his membership was challenged in the Lahore High Court and has now been restored).
Q: You have accused the CJP of very petty issues like asking for cars and a helicopter for travel. Are these charges strong enough to stick?
A: I felt that a person holding such a [high] office should not care about extra protocol or a Mercedes. However, what really disturbed me was his treatment of lawyers. I wanted that I be treated in the same manner as he treats Sharifuddin Pirzada.
Q: So it appears that your ego was hurt?
A: If a person does not have an ego, what else does he have? However, it’s the dignity of the lawyers that I’m concerned about. The incident that really disturbed me had to do with Raza Kazim — a lawyer I hold in great esteem. It happened during the hearing of one of his cases. The way he was humiliated was shocking for me.
Q: You said in your letter to the CJP that the lawyers community could revolt against him. But on the contrary they have revolted against you and sided with him.
A: Well, there are people who agree with me, and there are lawyers who have a different perception.
Q: So will you join the protests of your own community?
A: If my leaders Hamid Khan and Munir Malik ask me to.