Allah, Adliya, and America: Meet Pakistan’s top judges
After he was released on bail Thursday evening, Sheikh Rasheed make a remarkable statement as he addressed supporters from his Lal Haveli balcony, “Now, after Allah, only the judiciary can save Pakistan from [disintegration].”
Pakistanis have repeatedly heard a similar phrase over the years: Allah, Army and America run the country’s politics and in that order.
Rasheed changed the second item on the list, replacing the army with the judiciary. And he did not even break the alliteration chain. In Urdu, it is still, Allah, Adliya, and America.
Rasheed is not alone. The entire PTI is pinning its hopes on the judiciary.
PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry hailed a Supreme Court ruling that restored a pro-PTI police officer as Lahore police chief and suspended the Election Commission of Pakistan orders for his transfer.
Chaudhry said the Supreme Court had not only dealt a blow to “the Punjab branch of fascist government” – a reference to the caretaker Punjab government – but also given the kind of judgment that would promote a free society in Pakistan.
So, the PTI and its allies see the judiciary as a new guiding star.
And he did not even break the alliteration chain. In Urdu, it is still, Allah, Adliya, and America.
The possibility of a CJP serving as the political concertmaster is not a far-fetched one. Bangladesh underwent a period of what is called “judicialization of politics” in the 2000s.
The judicialization of politics in Bangladesh was linked with plans to do away with the caretaker government system. Incidentally, in today’s Pakistan, it is the caretaker setup of Punjab that is under fire from the judiciary.
While it would be premature to draw parallels between the political and constitutional contexts of Bangladesh and Pakistan, complex constitutional questions can only be settled in court and we see many such questions surfacing on the political horizon. The most important one is whether the government can delay a general election beyond the 90-day period specified in the Constitution.
If indeed the judiciary has replaced the army in dictating Pakistan’s politics, the central figure in Pakistani politics henceforth will be the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) and not the chief of army staff (COAS), whose office has been blamed for all the woes.
So, learning more about the office the CJP and the persons who will occupy it in the next few years could be quite helpful.
The CJP not only has a say in the appointment of high court judges to the Supreme Court but also controls the justice system through administrative powers vested in his office.
The top judge determines which of the 17 SC judges will hear a particular case. He (or she) decides who will be the judges on a bench—for example a five-member larger bench—hearing a case of high political importance.
The CJP decides if the top court is going to hear a case on an urgent basis or not.
And it is the sole prerogative of the CJP to take suo moto notice of any development. Suo moto literally means on their own accord and it enables the top judge to fix a matter for hearing by skipping the standard judicial processes.
Hence, the role of the incumbent CJP and his successors attains unusual importance. And it may eclipse the shadows drawn by the army chief on Pakistani politics. While the COAS is appointed by the prime minister, politicians cannot control the appointment of chief justices. Seniority and age alone determine who becomes Pakistan’s top judge.
Seniority is counted from the date a judge is appointed to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The age of superannuation is 65. So, the most senior judge below 65 becomes the CJP and serves in the position until he (or she) achieves superannuation and retires.
Does this offers a glimpse of power the CJP wield?
Now, meet the jurists who will hold the position.
Pakistan’s current CJP *Justice Umar Ata Bandial retires on September 17. Justice Bandial headed the larger bench that overturned Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri’s ruling on April 9 and, as a consequence Imran Khan was ousted. But Justice Bandial was also on the bench that removed PMLN’s Punjab government and paved the way for Pervaiz Elahi. So, the PTI looks up to him.
Justice Faez Isa, the current puisne judge, will become the CJP on September 18, 2023, and serve for only one year before retiring on October 25, 2024.
Justice Isa will be the 29th chief justice of Pakistan and many people believe he can reform the judiciary, though his tenure will be brief. Justice Isa is known for his landmark ruling against the ISI’s inference in politics using the Faizabad sit-in.
Before his elevation to the top court, he served in the Balochistan High Court.
Justice Isa will be succeeded by Justice Ijazul Ahsan as the CJP. He will serve until August 4, 2025.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan has been on most of the benches formed by the CJP to hear important constitutional issues. He was on the three-member bench that suspended the Election Commission’s order on the transfer of Ghulam Dogar, a pro-PTI officer.
He was elevated from the Lahore High Court.
Justice Mansoor Ali Shah will become the CJP on August 5, 2025, and will serve in this position until November 27, 2027. He too was elevated from the Lahore High Court.
Justice Munib Akhtar will succeed him and serve until December 13, 2028. Justice Akhtar came down hard on Election Commission officials in Friday’s hearing on Dogar.
Justice Akhtar was elevated to the Supreme Court from the Sindh High Court in May 2018.
Justice Yahya Afridi will succeed Justice Akthar and serve as the CJP until January 22, 2030. He will be the 33rd chief justice of Pakistan.
Justice Afridi was elevated from Peshawar High Court in June 2018. In January 2022, Justice Afridi made headlines when he cautioned then-Prime Minister Imran Khan against retaining “delinquents” like Law Minister Dr Farogh Naseem and Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) chairman Shahzad Akbar in important positions of authority.
Justice Ayesha Malik could be the first woman chief justice of Pakistan. She will rise to the position in January 2030 when Justice Afridi retires.
Comments are closed on this story.