Thursday, November 18, 2010

Asma Jahangir walks into a Glass House

Upright Opinion
October 30, 2010
Asma Jahangir walks into a Glass House
By Saeed Qureshi
By capturing the presidency of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Asma Jahangir has opted to enter the glass house that would expose her to blemishes from her detractors. Already a smear campaign is underway that purports to paint her image in lurid colors. She has been accused of being an Indian agent that seldom expressed sympathy with the Kashmiri freedom fighters. Her meeting with the anti Pakistan Hindu extremist Bal Thakrey wearing orange dress has already become the hot topic for gossip in various lobbies. Her antagonists even accuse her of being invisibly anti- Pakistan and pro India.
Her pronounced secularism may be debated in circles known as religious right. Her opponents allege that she could throw herself in ecstatic bouts of dancing and raveling with her Indian friends but would keep mum on the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat by the Hindu fanatics. Certain detractors of Asma even stretch the argument to an untenable limit that she was in favor of one united India meaning Pakistan to become a part of Indian federation.
With a well-earned backlog of meritorious services for the womenfolk of Pakistan and as a front-runner human right activist, Asma’s election as the first women president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association is a landmark development. With a reputation of being thoroughly a woman of principles, she is expected not to budge or take sides in the face of making a decision to uphold the banner of justice or political righteousness.
Nevertheless, angels too are censured for being sinful in the game of power that more often than not degenerates into a morbid campaign of slur and diatribe. The fractious culture that pervades and dominates every organ of society, as well has, its pernicious shadows over the legal community and bar. There are quite distinct divisions among the lawyers’ ranks. There are factions that support the sitting government. There are those that oppose the government for many faults that they find in it. The lawyers are also divided into opposing camps with regard to the judiciary especially the superior judiciary for the decisions that it hands out against the government and the rulers. They might have personal rancor for decisions given against them in the judicial cases they represent.
In the recent past, we have seen some distasteful raucous demonstrations and uproarious protest rallies by lawyers condemning and decrying the judges. There were demands by the agitating lawyers for sacking certain judges of lower courts and even the chief justice of the Lahore high court Justice Sharif. So the lawyers being as one of the central pillars of the civil society are turning rabble-rousers and street agitators committing acts of arson, manhandling of the opponents, physical assaults on the police operatives and outrageous and derogatory sloganeering against the judiciary and their fellow lawyers from the opposite camps.
It is in the air that the federal law minister Babar Awan was hugely instrumental in facilitating the victory of Asma Jahangir who could even otherwise have carried the day by dint of her own brilliant merits and good reputation as a famed human rights activist. But th stigma that she was vigorously supported by the PPPP faction of the coalition government cannot be washed off by any means. The argument marshaled to substantiate this assertion is based upon the sudden generous disbursement of money to various bars in the country by the Law minister who seems not to be contained by any let or hindrance or public repugnance.
Asma’s suspected tilt towards the government is proven by her rivals from her anti supreme court statements, soon after the formation of the PPP government, in response to the December 16, 2009 judgment, which declared Musharraf’s November 3 emergency as unconstitutional and resulted in Dogar court judges packing home.
Asma’s rivals claim that her statement made after the victory, implicitly contains a warning to the judiciary to behave otherwise face the wrath of the lawyers. This statement might spur a kind of friction between the pro-judiciary and anti- judiciary groups within the lawyers’ community. Does it mean that her statement carries a message for the judiciary not to persist in the anti government trend of prosecution such as the insistence on compliance of the verdict on NRO and perusal of Swiss cases? Was she deliberately planted by the incumbent government to counter the chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in order to restrain him from moving further on this course?
Asma is said to be an uncompromising hawk that possesses the mettle and disposition to ruffle the feathers and gloat in predicaments. She can mount a challenge for the apex judiciary once she would be convinced for genuine reasons or the feigned ones that it was time to take on the supreme court judges individually or collectively. With the sizeable backing of an army of recalcitrant defenders of law, she can create embarrassing bottlenecks for the superior judiciary to operate without hindrance. These are pure presumptions. It is as well possible that she adopts neutral stance or extends unflinching support to the judicial decisions even detrimental to the people occupying high offices in the government.
Only the coming time would unravel what strategy Asma Jahangir adopts to play her role as the president of the Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association. If she remains neutral in the ongoing tussle between the Federal government and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, she would enhance her stature and would earn kudos. If there is a salnt or tilt in favor of the government, she will face rebukes and even calumny that might wash off of what grand work she did in the past for the supremacy of law, democracy and particularly for the empowerment of women and for human rights.

She has landed in the glass house where every move and decision that she takes would be closely watched and evaluated by both friends and foes. Traditionally in the past, the SCBA presidents were mocked and decried by the opposite factions. Asma could also face scorn, ridicule, and flak even if her intentions would be pious. As such, she has to be extremely vigilant and be prepared to walk on a tight rope lest she falls on either side.

(The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan and the United States)

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