South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Muhammad Akram

LAHORE: Asma Jahangir’s election as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association is a success for democratic forces in the country and is bound to strengthen the human rights movement in the country, which she is spearheading as an undisputed icon.

Asma Jahangir represents modern, progressive and forward-looking sections of Pakistani society across the globe. Her election to the office is bound to bring about a sea change in Pakistan’s perception around the world, as a state of strife struggling to counter the menace of Talibanisation of society.

The verdict by the lawyers’ community is itself an expression of not succumbing any longer to the hangover of lawyers’ movement that helped restore the sacked judiciary headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Asma Jahangir has defeated, though with a narrow margin of 35 votes, the so-called champion of lawyers’ movement, the Hamid Khan group, despite the fact that she was known for her critical views of numerous judgements by the “independent” yet pro-active judiciary. The verdict by the top lawyers of the country is reflective of the suppressed expression on the conduct of the bar and bench vis-à-vis the nascent democracy struggling to get rooted against a barrage of suo motu notices on issues that need to be purely addressed by the executive.

But what appears to be more important is the defeat of a mindset that is largely been viewed as the real beneficiary of the restoration of the deposed judiciary in monetary terms. This mindset had been held responsible for the boycott of the 2008 general elections by the legal fraternity, by none other than Aitzaz Ahsan, the former SCBA president and the man who anchored the lawyers’ movement with the help of stalwarts like Asma.

Aitzaz Ahsan was out of the SCBA election run this time and sided with Asma’s rival camp, the Hamid Khan group. He appeared to have lost many friends in the bar politics like he did in his party, the PPP.

The sane voices, including those of Fakharuddin G Ibrahim, Justice (r) Tariq Mahmood and Ali Ahmed Kurd, stayed steadfast in her support and refused to budge to the general talks in bar rooms that supporting Asma would amount to a suppressed legal practice.

Will the icon of human rights’ movement succeed in helping the institutions start adhering to the constitution? Also, de-politicising the bar and the bench appears to be the biggest challenge in front of the first female president of the SCBA.

It’s a challenge since her predecessors, particularly the outgoing president Qazi Anwar, had left a legacy that needs to be rubbished since it was aimed at causing infighting between the institutions. Anwar had caused more damage to the SCBA than any of his predecessors, as he pitted the bar against the elected government several times by siding with a judicial decision dubbed as political in nature.

It was generally assumed that Anwar’s slanderous outburst against the elected government, particularly President Zardari, was not just motivated but a result of his hobnobbing with anti-government forces within the state. It was common knowledge that Anwar was found on more than one occasions hearing sympathetically, those who need to judge issues on merit than harming the nascent democracy by making newspaper and TV headlines through slanderous statements against the democratically elected government in general and President Zardari in particular. With Asma in office, hopes have come alive that the bar would restrict its mandated activities and not indulge in politics.

Asma’s statement, after her vistory, that she would continue her struggle for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression would reinvigorate the efforts of those who got dismayed due to the tussle between an elected government and a judiciary restored by the people’s struggle.

Source: The Daily Times – 28.10.2010