ISLAMABAD: Have the PPP’s legal eagles switched places?
Babar Awan, the voluble, omnipresent and much berated face of the PPP has disappeared from the radar. The new face of the PPP’s legal strategy is Aitzaz Ahsan who was once completely sidelined in the party.
But the reports of Senator Babar Awan’s fall have proved startling. Till just recently he was so close to the president that Asif Zardari expressed his annoyance over the PTV’s failure to telecast a press conference of his live.
But this is no longer the case. Instead, reports emanating from the party suggest that the president is not happy with his former law minister because he has let down the prime minister.
Though the problem began with the realisation that Awan’s legal strategy had simply not worked it soon dawned on the ruling party that his tactics were too provocative.
“There is a perception that it was Babar Awan who provoked the Supreme Court and the judiciary to this level; otherwise the Prime Minister’s contempt of court case was a manageable one,” said a senior federal minister. These words reveal the general opinion within the party.
However, the ‘fatal’ mistake came later. This was obvious by the very public snub the prime minister directed at Babar Awan when he said on March 8 that only a woman came to his help in his hour of need.
“When I needed a witness in the court, men refused but a woman sided with me.”
He was referring to Awan’s refusal to testify in court on the prime minister’s behalf. This refusal earned him the ire of the party leadership, especially the president.
According to a close aide to the prime minister, the decision to put Mr Awan in the list of witnesses was taken after due consultation with President Zardari.
Referring to a meeting of top PPP leaders at the presidency, the aide said that Barrister Ahsan briefed them that a mere appearance by Mr Awan in the court would absolve the prime minister. In the legal stalwart’s view, all the law minister had to say was that he had recommended that the prime minister need not write a letter to the Swiss authorities against the president and Mr Gilani would be home free.
“Mr Awan was also invited to the meeting, but he didn’t attend it,” the aide said.
“May be it was the blind confidence which President Zardari placed in Mr Awan, but he gave a go ahead to Barrister Ahsan to use Senator Awan as a witness for prime minister without asking for the formal consent of the former,” said the official. But Awan refused as did his handpicked law secretary.
In fact, the official said Prime Minister Gilani was so upset that he shared the story with every second person he met.
In private discussions Mr Awan is equally disturbed over the latest happenings related to the decision of the prime minister to present him as one of his witnesses. At one sitting he was quoted as saying that he had no qualms in going to the court to speak in favour of the prime minister, but the way Barrister Ahsan had roped him in as a defence witness wasn’t acceptable.
But his ‘entrapment’ was far from over. Ahsan then came up with an alternative plan. He proposed that if Awan was reluctant to appear in court, Ahsan would simply submit his affidavit.
Once again the president felt confident enough to promise on his former law minister’s behalf that the affidavit would be signed and delivered to Ahsan by the afternoon of Tuesday, March 6, when he needed to submit it to the court.
The affidavit was delivered to Awan. However, a PPP leader involved in the matter, said that Awan acknowledged receiving the affidavit --- and then there was silence. Calls to his cell phone and his home went unanswered. A frustrated president sent Rukhsana Bangash to Awan’s house.
She waited there all afternoon for the elusive Awan --- while the president waited in the presidency. “The president sleeps in the afternoon; but that afternoon, he didn’t,” said the PPP leader.
Awan finally appeared out of nowhere to meet Bangash --- after five, when it was no longer possible to submit anything to the court.
He is said to have told her in so many words that he did not appreciate being offered up for sacrifice alone, a message, which once it was relayed to the president, is said to have not gone down well.
Keeping in mind the context of the contempt case and how the prime minister is claiming to offer his post and political career to protect the president, the president has taken Mr Gilani’s side instead of Mr Awan’s. And due to this, his enemies are predicting that Mr Awan’s end is nigh.
But never say never. In recent days many an exiled and alienated leader in the PPP has been resurrected (Sherry Rehman and Aitzaz Ahsan are cases in point).
Would someone like Awan who has perfected the Darbari craft stay out of favour for long? One can only wait and watch out for him to bounce back, for he will try hard.