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Bhutto reference

April 15, 2011

AS the PPP's attempt to revisit the judicial verdicts that led to the hanging of its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, haltingly gets under way, big question marks hang over the intentions of all sides. Perhaps aware of the political minefield that it is being lured into, the Supreme Court has gingerly raised technical problems with the presidential reference. There certainly appear to be deficiencies in the drafting of the reference, a fact corroborated by non-partisan judicial experts, so that has temporarily obfuscated the court's intentions on the matter. Is the present superior judiciary really willing to revisit one of the low points in the judicial history of the country? The presidential reference could be an opportunity to exorcise some of the ghosts that have stalked the intersection of law and politics in the country for many decades. However, given the political quarters from where the reference has originated, it may be less a case of an opportunity than a political googly tossed at the judicial bat.

Which leads to the other question: what exactly are the PPP leadership's intentions? Is the party really interested in retrospective justice or is it a political ploy to drag the court into controversy while revving up the PPP base? Watching the cringe-worthy spectacle of a former foe of Mr Bhutto, Babar Awan, posturing and preening in defence of the leader he once so publicly hated, it is easy to believe that the most cynical of intentions are at work. If the PPP were genuinely seeking to at least undo the legal travesty that led to the hanging of its founder, it would be hard to argue against. But there is plenty of reason to be sceptical, not least because of the manner and timing of the reference and the personnel chosen to argue it before the SC. Political brinkmanship is the oldest trick in the book, but some tricks have a way of backfiring. Why reignite a debate when most of the political class appears to have accepted that the hanging was a grave miscarriage of justice?