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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has appointed Ashtar Ausaf Ali, his adviser on law, as attorney general of Pakistan after accepting the resignation of Salman Aslam Butt.

According to a brief official announcement issued on Monday night, “Prime Minister Nawaz Sha­rif has accepted the resignation of Salman Aslam Butt and app­ointed Ashtar Ausaf as the new AG”.

Salman Butt was believed to be close to the Sharif family and considered being the strongest top judicial officer of the country. Some senior PML-N leaders even looked with envy at his direct access to the prime minister.

Though Salman Butt is keeping a mum, legal experts blame his poor handling of the case of retired Gen Pervez Musharraf before the Supreme Court as a cause behind his unceremonious exit.

Lahore-based Salman Butt, who was appointed attorney general on Jan 16, 2014, caught himself at the centre of criticism after his stand before a five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali surprised many.

Despite repeated queries by the court he had avoided taking forceful representation of the government by simply arguing that the government was in the hands of the Supreme Court and had placed the name of Mr Musharraf on the ECL (exit control list) in compliance with its April 8, 2013, directives.

The former attorney general’s arguments before the court finally led to the removal of Mr Musharraf’s name from the ECL and his exit from the country after the court rejected the government’s appeal. This, however, brought embarrassment to the government which had taken pride for initiating the treason trial against the former military ruler.

Salman Butt’s arguments forced the chief justice to lament that the government did not want to do anything on its own and that it was taking shelter under the April 8 order of the apex court.

There are, however, some successes to the credit of Salman Butt, the biggest being the approval by the Supreme Court of the 21st Amendment in the Constitution under which military courts were established.

After assuming the charge of the top law office, Ashtar Ausaf will become the third attorney general in the present PML-government and sixth since March, 2008. The first one was Munir A. Malik who assumed the office of attorney general in June, 2013.

Ashtar Ausaf had earlier served as the advocate general of Punjab. The Lahore-based lawyer came to prominence in 1993 when he represented the then Nawaz Sharif government before the Supreme Court after it was toppled through dissolution of assemblies by former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

Ashtar Ausaf supported the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of independent judiciary and he was detained in Lahore when then president Pervez Musharraf proclaimed the state of emergency on Nov 3, 2007.

The appointment to the office of the attorney general is made under Article 100 of the Constitution.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016

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