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AG Ashtar Ausaf quits to help ensure fair elections

Updated June 21, 2018

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Asma Hamid & Ashtar Ausaf
Asma Hamid & Ashtar Ausaf

ISLAMABAD: Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf has resigned after serving in the prestigious office for over two years. He had replaced senior counsel Salman Aslam Butt on March 29, 2016, following the latter’s resignation.

Believed to be very close to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Mr Ausaf stated in his resignation letter sent to President Mamnoon Hussain that in the wake of imminent general elections, it would be appropriate to quit the constitutional office. Otherwise, the letter added, it could be perceived by any party that his continued presence would impede the process of free and fair elections.

Earlier, Mr Ausaf had submitted his resignation following the dissolution of parliament after completing its five-year tenure on May 31. In the fresh resignation dated June 15, he highlighted the importance of upcoming general elections, saying that a democratic transition was essential under the Constitution.

Punjab government removes female advocate general, dispenses with service of 11 assistant advocate generals

“The democratic transition and its preservation is a cornerstone of our constitution and our democracy,” the resignation said and requested the president to accept his resignation with immediate effect.

No announcement has, however, been made as to who will officiate in his absence, though a number of additional and deputy attorney generals are working in the office. The office of attorney general is filled by the president and the person nominated to the post must be qualified to be appointed a judge of the Supreme Court.

According to Article 100 of the Constitution, the attorney general gives advice to the federal government on legal issues and enjoys the right of audience in all courts and tribunals.

During Mr Ausaf’s tenure, the AG office was involved in all important matters, be they international arbitration or security-related issues. Mr Ausaf led the federation to victory in the Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui case where he had argued that in-camera proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Council did not infringe a judge’s fundamental rights, as well as the Said Zaman case where the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence of several terror convicts, including those involved in the Army Public School carnage.

In the recent lifetime disqualification case under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, the apex court had also accepted Mr Ausaf’s contention that parliament had prescribed no limit for electoral disqualification.

Similarly, Mr Ausaf took strong stances during the prosecution of PML-N loyalist and former senator Nehal Hashmi for his jibe at the Supreme Court and re-imprisonment of Shahrukh Jatoi for his involvement in the tragic murder of 20-year-old Shahzeb Khan in Karachi in December 2012.

Mr Ausaf was also credited with the renewal of the GSP-Plus package (international agreement for greater market access) offered to Pakistan’s commerce division by the European Union in 2015. As convener of the Treaty Implementation Cell, he was able to satisfy international monitoring agencies that Pakistan was progressing on its human rights commitments.

Mr Ausaf was also appointed agent to plead Pakistan’s case against Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav in the International Court of Justice.

Most recently, Mr Ausaf challenged the validity of retired General Pervez Musharraf’s electoral candidacy, arguing that an absconder had no right of audience before courts.

Punjab advocate general removed

In a related development, the Punjab government has removed Asma Hamid from the office of advocate general with immediate effect. A notification to that effect was issued on behalf of Punjab Governor Rafiq Rajwana.

Additional Advocate General Muhammad Shan Gul has been directed by the governor to look after the office till the appointment of a full-fledged advocate general.

Asma Hamid, daughter of former Punjab governor Shahid Hamid and senior counsel of the Supreme Court, was appointed assistant advocate general in January 2014 and then additional advocate general in March 2015.

The Lahore High Court Bar Association described her removal by the caretaker government as arbitrary without any reason or lawful justification. In a press statement, the LHCBA said Ms Hamid was the first female appointee to the office of advocate general who had distinguished herself as a professional and capable law officer.

Her removal was an abuse of discretion and a blatant violation of due process, the statement said, adding that the constitutional post had no nexus with the political or electoral process.

The Punjab government has also dispensed with the services of 11 assistant advocate generals who were appointed on May 26 and 30 in derogation of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s April 10 notification in which the commission had placed ban on new recruitments and development schemes.

They are Barrister Asjad Saeed, Amar Sanaullah, Muhammad Tariq Mehmood Butt, Ahmad Hassan Rana, Muhammad Tariq Nadeem, Barrister Bushra Saqib, Asif Afzal Bhatti, Chaudhry Muhammad Jawad Yaqub, Khalid Masood Ghani and Barrister Ameer Abbas Ali Khan.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2018