Undoing of PTI legal eagles

February 23, 2020

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The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE recent humiliation suffered by the PTI government in the courts has led some observers to ask if the legal eagles of the present era lack the genius of the pro-dictatorship ‘constitutional expert’ of yesteryear, Sharifuddin Pirzada.

It is a legitimate question if one were to take the example of just three legal minds the PTI and its backers have heavily relied on since coming to power in 2018. All three have eagerly defended authoritarian practices and struggled to succeed.

Won’t take much to guess the three are Law Minister Farogh Nasim; retired Capt Anwar Mansoor Khan, who has just vacated the office of attorney general of Pakistan (he says he jumped; the government suggests he was pushed); and Shahzad Akbar, the head of the so-called Asset Recovery Unit.

Mr Nasim once famously likened ‘Altaf [Hussain] bhai’ to Nelson Mandela when the MQM founder had not fallen foul of the establishment and happily continued to offer his (I am told) considerable legal expertise to causes of import to bhai and bhai’s supporters.

Is it really that they lack the acumen and finesse with which Sharifuddin Pirzada’s served his masters?

Of course, he had to reinvent himself and distanced himself from his leader, his Nelson Mandela, when the leader’s narcissism brought him into direct conflict with the guardians of the ideology of Pakistan for having uttered ‘seditious remarks’.

The law minister worked tirelessly to ensure the army chief got the extension he wanted, when the Supreme Court took up a petition questioning the constitutional and legal validity of the president’s decision which was made on the, presumably, binding advice of the prime minister.

He vigorously defended the government decision but, realising that his arguments were not cutting much ice with the Supreme Court bench, headed by the former chief justice, Asif Saeed Khosa, dramatically resigned as the law minister to be able to ‘represent’ the COAS in the case.

In his final days in office, Mr Khosa possibly did not want to create a bigger crisis beyond sending jitters up the spine of all concerned for a few days, and allowed the government six months to legislate in order to provide the missing legal cover for the move.

In that case, the man publicly exposed along with the law minister was the attorney general, Anwar Mansoor, as both their answers, in the form of summaries and notifications, fell short of what was being demanded by the apex court.

Then, of course, there was the verdict of the special court trying former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf under Article 6 of the Constitution that found him guilty of high treason and sentenced him to death.

While this verdict brought a rebuke from the military spokesman who talked of unease at the decision in the military rank and file, Anwar Mansoor and Shahzad Akbar addressed a joint presser where the attorney general questioned the sanity of one of the three judges.

A word on Shahzad Akbar before we move to the present and the latest faux pas. He has been making tall claims about having found billions stashed away abroad mostly by dirty politicians, all of which will eventually be brought back to the country as it is looted national wealth. A worthy objective indeed, but the only allegedly looted stash that is now adding to our fast-growing foreign exchange reserves does not belong to any politician but to real estate tycoon Malik Riaz. The details of that transfer are shrouded in a supposed non-disclosure agreement so we will never know them.

As for politicians, a request to Interpol to arrest and extradite former finance minister Ishaq Dar from UK (London to be precise) to Pakistan was tossed in the bin by the international law-enforcement body as it ascertained the request to be politically motivated.

Even then, Shahzad Akbar at least managed to get a couple of hundred million pounds back to Pakistan. The other two have very little to show for their legal excellence. Akbar also has to his credit a challenge to the US drone attack policy as a lawyer for peace group Code Pink.

He mounted the challenge and represented some innocent victims, who militaries all over try and dehumanise by calling collateral damage. Coincidentally perhaps, this case came at a time when Intel chief Shuja Pasha was also publicly taking an anti-US drone attack line.

Let’s revert to the latest fiasco which came during Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s challenge before the Supreme Court of the Supreme Judicial Council proceedings against him for alleged non-declaration of his family’s assets.

Appearing before a 10-member Supreme Court bench, the former attorney general made certain remarks about the judges that the court took umbrage at. He was asked to either furnish evidence or submit a written apology to the court. (The charge was so outrageous that the court applied reporting restrictions on it.)

The law minister and the ARU chief were both present in the court and left with the attorney general, who by the evening had resigned citing a Pakistan Bar Council demand. Later, he also submitted his apology to the court, expressing unreserved contrition.

Read: Former AG Khan insists govt knew he was going to make remarks against SC judges

The former attorney general told the media that his remarks were not his alone and had been agreed on by others in government, implying the law minister. During a TV interview, Farogh Nasim accused Anwar Mansoor of lying (‘jhoot keh rahe hein’). In short, they were at each other’s throats.

This was the dramatic undoing of the team of legal eagles that had been gifted to the government on being brought to power. Is it really that they lack the acumen and finesse with which Sharifuddin Pirzada’s served his masters? I don’t think so. I may not like former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry for valid reasons but following his defiance of the military ruler the judiciary came together and committed itself to closing its ranks to outside attacks.

In some cases, the judiciary may also be on the same page as the others. But anybody on the outside must tread with caution when the judiciary sees itself under attack. Sharifuddin Pirzada never confronted such an obstinate obstacle.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2020