Asif takes on judges and generals, past and present

Published February 25, 2023
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif addressing the National Assembly on Friday. — screengrab from video posted on NAofPakistan/Twitter
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif addressing the National Assembly on Friday. — screengrab from video posted on NAofPakistan/Twitter

• Calls for full court bench to hear suo motu in NA speech, asks judiciary to revisit Panama Papers case verdict • Holds Bajwa, Faiz responsible for Nawaz’s ouster, rise in terrorism

ISLAMABAD: Defence Minis­ter Khawaja Asif on Friday held the judiciary and the military establishment directly responsible for bringing the country to a “grinding halt” due to prevailing economic and constitutional crises and called for setting up a full Supreme Court bench, not only to hear the suo motu case regarding the dates for the elections in the two provinces, but also to revisit all recent controversial decisions, starting from the verdict in the 2017 Panama Papers case.

Speaking in the National Assembly, the firebrand PML-N stalwart accused the judiciary of “trespassing” on the parliament’s jurisdiction and expressed resentment over the apex court’s recent rulings, particularly the controversial interpretations of Article 63-A of the Constitution, which deals with the disqualification of members of parliament.

The minister also blamed ex-army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and former head of the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) Faiz Hamid for playing a role in the ouster of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as well as the renewed surge in terrorism.

“Instead of nine judges, the issue needs to be taken up by a full court. The whole SC should sit together and find a solution,” the minister suggested.

• Calls for full court bench to hear suo motu in NA speech, asks judiciary to revisit Panama Papers case verdict • Holds Bajwa, Faiz responsible for Nawaz’s ouster, rise in terrorism

While he was making his speech in the National Assembly, in the adjacent SC building, a nine-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial was conducting suo motu proceedings over the delay in the announcement of a date for polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“I do not want to criticise if there are some [judges] in the bench whose characters have a question mark on them, but if the entire court sits for the matter, I think there can be redressal for the things that have happened in the past eight months,” Mr Asif remarked.

“When those [SC judges] … intrude into our territory, we have the right to raise our voice,” the minister reasoned, asking the judiciary to introspect and ascertain the reasons “why some of the judges are criticised and some are not.”

He then went on to name ‘good’ and ‘bad’ judges.

“Why Justice Munir is criticised and Justice Cornelius is not criticised? Why it is so that Justice Irshad Hassan and Justice Riaz Sheikh are criticised and Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui and Nazim Siddiqui are not [criticised]?” he asked.

While mentioning the SC bench that disqualified Nawaz Sharif in the Panama case in 2017, the defence minister said Saqib Nisar and Asif Khosa were criticised whereas Nasirul Mulk and Tassaduq Jilani were praised. He then called for action against all those “culprits” who were involved in the ouster of Mr Sharif, stating that “confessional statements” of judges and people in the military establishment, even PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi, had already come to the surface.

He regretted life-time disqualification of Mr Sharif by the judiciary, stating that there was no such precedent or law under which an elected representative belonging to one institution had been barred from representing the people for lifetime by another institution.

The “first constitutional accident” in the country, he said, took place when a judge declared the military takeover valid through “doctrine of necessity”.

“The first political martyrdom happened when [former PM] Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged by the judiciary. Nawaz Sharif was the first constitutional martyr [when he was disqualified in Panama case] and that too at the hands of the judiciary,” he said amid desk-thumping and slogans of “shame, shame” by the treasury and the opposition members.

‘Offer martyrdom’

“Now is the time for the judiciary to offer martyrdom to save its respect and prestige and correct its lapses and provide a foundation on which the structure of a strong state can be laid,” the minister went on saying.

“Do not generate controversies. Do not re-write Article 63-A, rather reverse it as it is against the fundamental human rights to disqualify someone for lifetime from representing the people. If it is allowed to continue, then God forbid, there can be an accident,” he said.

Mr Asif asked the SC why it did not proceed against President Arif Alvi under Article 6 of the Constitution when he dissolved the National Assembly in April 2022 to avoid a vote of no confidence against the then prime minister Imran Khan.

Moreover, the minister regretted the SC’s ruling regarding the counting of votes under Article 63-A during the election of Punjab chief minister, resulting in the dismissal of the PML-N’s government in the province.

The PML-N stalwart also lashed out at the judiciary for what he called discriminatory treatment with PTI Chairman Imran Khan, stating that on one hand, the opposition members under the PTI government were denied bails and sent to prisons, and on the other hand, the courts had been inviting Mr Khan to come to the court to seek bail before arrest.

The minister said that former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi had told him about the wedding of the son of a bureaucrat in which Rs1.2 billion had been collected. Without naming anyone, he said that bureaucrat was still in service and “no one is there to hold him accountable”.

“The country cannot afford this crisis. The time has come to resolve it. This is a duty and an obligation on the superior judiciary to find out the solution to the situation which it had made complicated in the last eight months…..this is an opportunity to correct it,” he said.

Rise in terrorism

Recalling a parliamentary briefing during the PTI government time, the minister said that former army chief Qamar Bajwa and ex-ISI DG Faiz Hameed had told the parliament that the Taliban had become good people and that they would live peacefully in the country.

“What happened then? Is there anyone to hold them accountable?” he asked.

“As many as 86,000 people lost their lives due to terrorism, but the two people compromised [with the terrorists],” he alleged.

The minister also informed the house about his recent visit to neighbouring Afghanistan, stating that it was fruitful as the Taliban government “responded well”.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2023

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