ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court finally closed on Thursday the hearing of a case relating to the 20-day Faizabad sit-in staged by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in November last year, but wondered whether the future of the country would be determined by parliament or insidious forces.

“Every force is subservient to Pakistan as commanded by Articles 5 and 6 of the Constitution and I will even go to the extent of saying that if they are not then they are traitors,” observed Justice Qazi Faez Isa, one of the members of a two-judge SC bench, before the court reserved its ruling in the case.

“I am not going to live in fear,” Justice Isa observed and asked Attorney General Anwar Mansoor to ponder why the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was shy of explaining their mandate.

The observation came when a sealed envelope was produced before the Supreme Court the contents of which were not even shared with Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mahmood.

Apex court reserves ruling in Faizabad sit-in case

The attorney general explained that he would give his reasons for the classified reply in the chambers and not in the open court, but after realising the perceived reluctance on the part of the court he hastened to add that he would reply to the query in writing that should be treated as classified.

Justice Isa, however, reminded the attorney general that in their sealed response the agency had only reproduced one of the judgements of the Supreme Court. The judge recalled that Pakistan was created not through battles or wars but through the perfect constitutional brain of the Quaid-i-Azam, Liaquat Ali Khan and his associates.

“Pakistan is part of the comity of nations where intelligence agencies to which we try to emulate like FBI, CIA, etc, have mandates to operate. We want to know answer to a simple question, whether they (ISI) have a mandate and why they are shying away from disclosing the same,” Justice Isa observed.

He recalled that during the earlier proceedings the court had asked the agency if TLP members paid income taxes and in response they stated that the query did not fall into their domain, but of the State Bank of Pakistan and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

Referring to a lack of penal consequences for not furnishing election expenses by political parties, the attorney general regretted that parliament had erred as unfortunately no specific consequence had been provided in the Elections Act 2017.

“Parliament has never erred but we are continuously undermining the sovereignty of parliament each and every day,” Justice Isa observed and asked the attorney general point blank about his opinion, asking whether or not the TLP was acting prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan by indulging in acts of terrorism.

The attorney general said that personally he subscribed to the observation of the court but had not solicited any opinion from the government on the subject.

When the same question was asked from Election Commission of Pakistan Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fatah, he said the ECP had not authorised him to give his viewpoint but recalled that he had written a letter to the interior ministry, asking it whether any member of the party (TLP) belonged to or had association with proscribed groups.

“The reply from the ministry is still awaited,” the ECP secretary said, adding that the commission believed that it was for the government to make such a declaration. But the commission could furnish its opinion about the question through a separate reply if the court really wanted to, he added.

“You people do not respect the laws made by the assemblies,” Justice Isa said, adding that the chosen representatives of the people had made a law and it was “your duty to apply the same”.

“What message ECP is sending to the political parties by taking no action against parties which are in default of the election laws? Why is it not in the consideration of the commission to act sternly against such parties? You people salute parties which have the ability to burn at least 300 cars to register their protest. Should respectable or notables leave this country?” Justice Isa asked. Such losses had to be met from the poor taxpayers and if the government did not have enough money, they went abroad for collection, Justice Isa regretted.

The ECP secretary explained that the commission was an independent institution and enjoying its authority, but the laws relating to the election expense were really “directory” in nature and not mandatory.

The apex court also expressed concern over the ECP laws that allow a person with Nicop (National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistani) to register his political party in the country. “A person holding US passport as well as Nicop can set up a political party or become a member of a political party and his panel can even contest elections, but only the candidate will be disqualified for possessing dual nationality without any consequence to the party,” Justice Isa regretted.

The court was also perturbed and wondered whether television channels were making false statements by complaining that their transmissions were interrupted, blocked or reshuffled in certain parts of the country and asked the attorney general whether there was an air of censorship by some powers or some insidious forces were at work in the country.

The attorney general said he did not want to answer presumptive questions.

“One presumption may be that these television channels are in fact lying,” Justice Isa said, wondering whether the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) fulfilled its statutory rules by not taking action against the cable operators which blocked the transmission.

Justice Isa said the Pemra chairman should be proud of complete eyewash which had added another feather to his cap, adding that TV channels had received a message loud and clear that if they made any complaint they would be persecuted and tormented.

The observation came when Hafiz S.A. Rehman, the counsel for Pemra, said the authority had also written to the owners of TV channels, asking them whether those claiming before the court about the blockade of transmission were authorised to make such statements before the court.

“Is this the freedom of expression and why we are paying from taxpayers’ money to the authority?” Justice Isa asked.

When the attorney general, while citing the May 12, 2007 incident in Karachi, said the Muttahida Qaumi Movement had caused a problem in which 50 people lost their lives, Justice Isa asked if the MQM was doing that on their own and who was holding the federal government at that time.

The attorney general said he would not make any statement since the matter was sub judice and these questions had to be determined by the courts concerned. He said whatever was done was wrong, but he would not say who did this.

Earlier, the court took exception to the absence of the attorney general when it was informed by DAG Sohail Mahmood that the AG had been called by the prime minister.

“Is AG a servant of the prime minister or the state and why should the court not issue contempt notice against AG for not appearing before it despite date of the case of his own choosing? State functionaries become servant of the people of Pakistan because they are paid by the people,” Justice Isa said.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2018

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