Attorney general fiasco

Updated February 22, 2020

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THE recent fiasco involving the exit of the attorney general of Pakistan has, once again, exposed the lack of cohesion at the top and the federal government’s seemingly haphazard method of handling highly sensitive legal matters.

The handling of the reference against Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa is, of course, not the first crisis of its kind but it was hoped some lessons would have been learnt by now so that blunders were not repeated.

The controversy emerged when the now former attorney general Anwar Mansoor Khan reportedly made comments casting aspersions on the judges of the apex court.

The exact nature of his remarks cannot be dwelt on because of the court’s verbal orders.

The Supreme Court had asked him to produce evidence to substantiate his allegations or apologise; on Friday, Mr Khan chose the latter option.

This is not the first time Mr Khan’s neutrality has been questioned as following the sentencing of retired Gen Pervez Musharraf by a special court in the high treason case in December, he had said that the military ruler had not received a fair trial.

While the ex-attorney general’s comments were enough to raise eyebrows, the government’s fumbling in their aftermath did not help matters much and, in fact, resulted in blowing the controversy out of proportion.

The government distanced itself from Mr Khan’s comments, once the attorney general resigned, though the law minister and the Assets Recovery Unit chief were present in court on Feb 18 when the controversial comments were made, and did not say anything at that point.

Moreover, it is still unclear whether the ex-law officer tendered his resignation, which he claims to have done at the behest of the Pakistan Bar Council, or was asked to leave, as his ministry maintains.

There needs to be greater clarity about the facts but one thing is evident: when the government’s top law officer speaks in court, it is always assumed that he is speaking for the state, in this case the law ministry, and not in his personal capacity.

Mr Khan had also told a TV channel that the matter had been discussed in government circles.

For the ministry to distance itself from his comments in an apparent damage-control effort after the controversy erupted speaks volumes for the disarray in the government’s legal team, and the state of affairs within the ruling circle in general.

A new attorney general, Khalid Jawed Khan, has now been appointed, and it is hoped that from here on more thought is put into what the state’s officers say before the courts, especially the apex court.

These are not trivial matters and there needs to be cohesion in government ranks.

And especially when discussing sensitive matters, it should be ensured that the state’s legal team is on one page, and embarrassing episodes such as the latest controversy are not repeated.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2020