Keeping calm and carrying on?
PM Gilani’s appearance in the Supreme Court brought to light a number of important trends. First and foremost, the appearance indicates that that the government has now decided to fight the case legally rather than politically.
Babar Awan talked more politics than law while defending the government’s position. He gave the impression of playing to the gallery. He took up issues that were irrelevant from a legal point of view. He talked about the injustices done to the PPP, including denial of justice to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and Benazir Bhutto. He referred to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, darkly hinting that the NRO case could lead to the separation of Sindh. He spoke about the PPP being always a victim and after ZAB and Benazir, a grave was now being prepared for President Zardari.
PM Gilani on the other hand appeared before the court along with the governors of the four provinces and the leaders of ANP and PML(Q) as an expression of the recognition of the majesty of the court. He was respectful but firm. He said he had no intention to defame or ridicule the superior judiciary. “That is not my intention. We have the highest respect for your decision (NRO verdict), but at the same time, the constitution is in between.”
The court took notice of the gesture and Gilani was exempted from personal appearance in future. The replacement of Babar Awan by Aitzaz Ahsan who was in the forefront of the struggle for the restoration of independent judiciary indicated that the government wanted to pursue the matter with due respect to the court and strictly on legal grounds.
A good beginning. This however should by no means provide an assurance that the PM is off the hook now. His fate and that of Zardari hinges now on whether Aitzaz is able to convince the court that the president enjoys blanket immunity from all types of criminal cases. As things stand, the justices do not subscribe to the view.
This bring to an end the hype created by a section of media which had predicted that the hearing would be brief and lead to some extraordinary decision by the apex court in the contempt proceedings.
Outside the Supreme Court building, the media trial of the government leaders continued. Without waiting for the judgment on the issue of presidential immunity, Mian Nawaz Sharif demanded that PM Gilani must write the letter to the Swiss authorities to open the cases against Zardari.
While Aitzaz Ahsan was briefing the media outside the court, a group of lawyers shouted “Zardari ka jo yaar hai, ghaddar hai ghadar hai.” They were, thus, killing two birds with one stone. They had decided that while Zardari was the real culprit, Aitzaz who was fighting the contempt case against Gilani in the apex court was also a traitor. This amounted to putting pressure on the court also to deliver a judgment of their liking. If anybody vindicating Zardari through legal means was a traitor, those accepting Aitzaz Ahsan’s plea automatically also fell in the same category.
This brings us to another important social issue. Like a section of the media, a section of the legal community too is not willing to wait for the court’s judgment. They want the accused to go unheard and demand a verdict of their liking. Unfortunately the trends is becoming all too common. Unless this is retrained, this will lead to terrible consequences for society.
The minorities are the worst victim. Pressure exerted by radicalised lawyers is making it difficult for a member of the minority community accused of blasphemy to hire a counsel.
When the trial of Mumtaz Qadri, the self confessed killer of Governor Taseer, started at a Rawalpindi court, a crowd of extremist lawyers and madrassah students descended on the building in support of Qadri. The authorities had to drive the judge to a makeshift court hastily set up in a heavily protected building in Islamabad.
The judge who found Qadri guilty of the crime and sentenced him to be hanged received death threats. He had to be shifted outside the country, along with family, as the administration believed it could not provide him security inside Pakistan.
In the presence of these extremist lawyers, it is difficult for a court to pass a judgment not liked by them. It is time the bar associations step in to rein in their radicalised members and the law colleges make necessary amendments in the curriculum to instil in their students a respect for law and an acceptance of judgments against their wishes.
It was interesting to note the reaction of the MQM which is one of the government allies to PM Gilani’s appearance in the court. While other coalition leaders accompanied the prime minister to show respect for the court and solidarity for the PM, the MQM declined to join the company. MQM leaders were however present at the president’s dinner in the evening. The message: We are with you to enjoy the perks and privileges but don’t expect us to be with you at a moment of trial and tribulation.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.