Friday 9 December 2011

Law and Disorder

(published by Pak Tea House on 10th December,2011)

Law and Disorder: Radicalization of the legal community

Greek philosopher Aristotle famously remarked “The law is reason unaffected by desire”.                                                                                     Going by that description, lawyers should be the most logical/reasonable people in a society. In context of Pakistan, lawyers have played an important role in both creation of Pakistan and evolution of society. Founder of Pakistan Mr Muhamad Ali Jinnah and national poet Allama Iqbal were both lawyers. Lawyers are also the most politicised section of the society. Every major party in Pakistan has its legal wings. A disturbing trend of increased religious intolerance has been witnessed in the last few years. One basic reason for this has been the increasd influence of student wings of right-wing parties in law colleges across the country. Even the historic lawyers' movement was almost hi-jacked by the right wing elements among lawyers. According to Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer and partner at Ijaz Co in Lahore,
“The lawyers’ movement in 2007 started as one of the most principled revolutionary movements that this country has ever witnessed. The primary reason for its initial success was the organisational structure of the district Bar associations. Hence it was possible to mobilise the lawyers in most cities in the country, almost simultaneously. The realisation that a movement restricted to lawyers is unlikely to culminate into a movement of the masses in the true sense resulted in accepting assistance from anyone who was willing to offer it. The religious right was the first to see an opening and seize the opportunity. Initially, it was the religious political parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami but this degenerated into the appearance of members of the Sipah-i-Sahaba and other banned outfits at protests.. The not-so-subtle irony here was that groups that did not believe a constitutional form of government to be permissible and longed for “Sharia” rule were cheering on for the restoration of the Chief Justice. It was the classic example of not being ‘Hub-e-Ali’ (‘love for Ali’) but ‘Bugz-e-Muawiya’ (‘opposition to Muawiya’) and the enemy of the enemy being a friend etc. I am certain that the leadership of the lawyers’ movement smugly believed that the rational utilitarian choice at that moment was to garner support from whatever quarter it emanates to pursue the immediate objective of the restoration of the judiciary and of kicking out Musharraf. While both these aims were not only honourable but desirable, nevertheless there was definitely myopia displayed by the leadership of the lawyers’ movement. Faustian bargains once made cannot be undone”
A unique achievement on part of the increasingly radicalized lawyer community was the funeral prayers that were offered after the death of Osama bin Laden at Lahore High Court, Peshawar High Court and Rawalpindi Bar Association.(Despite the fact that 66% Pakistanis do not even believe that OBL was killed by US SEAL team Six that night) . This act is described as unique because these funeral prayers preceded those at either Mansoora or Qadsia Mosque(the fortresses of traditional sypmathizers of Osama i.e. Jamaat e Islami and Jamaat ad Dawaa). As if this was not disturbing enough, lawyers in Rawalpindi went a step further and showered rose-petals on the murderer of Governor Salman Taaseer in Rawalpindi.Those lawyers probably did not know that one of their own-Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti-was murdered on the same issue in 1997 in his chambers in Lahore or that two of the very well-esteemed members of Judiciary over the years i.e. Justice Alvin Robert Cornelius and Justice Bhagwan Das were non-muslims. The image of Qadri being showered with  rose-petals by Lawyers projected to the world how insecure our minorities are and highlighted the level of religious intolerance. Later, when Qadri was sentenced to death, the judge who gave the verdict faced threats to his life and had to flee the country. Haider Imtiaz, from the Rawalpindi Bar, wrote,      
“When the verdict[against Qadri] was given, it reminded me of the age-old phrase, ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens fall’. The heavens have indeed fallen upon the judge who had, until a few weeks ago, enjoyed a reasonably good reputation. Expecting violent reprisals, he was forced to take leave and stop performing his duties. The day after the DBA resolution was passed, the same lawyers who had attended the ‘emergency’ session vandalised his office. Keeping in view the threat to his life, he was eventually transferred by the authorities. It was indeed a sad and shameful day in the history of the District Bar Association Rawalpindi which had, only a few years ago, played the role of the vanguard in the lawyers’ movement for rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.”
Azhar siddique is the poster boy for the born-again religious lawyers. He submitted an appeal to the Lahore high court praying that Facebook be banned. In may 2010, facebook was banned for a few days by PTA. Recently, Lahore high court ordered the authorities to block blasphemous pages on facebook. He was also leading the effort by certain quarters to declare Sherry Rehman ineligible for the post of of Ambassador to the United States. According to those people, Sherry Rehman introduced a bill in the parliament to amend the infamous blasphemy law and took a courageous stand on the matter of Aasia bibi which somehow justifies her to be killed or at least be declared non-muslim.(That appeal was ultimately dismissed by the Lahore High court
The founder of Pakistan would be turning in his grave due to these “stunts” by certain sections of our legal fraternity. The only positive thing is that there still are prominent lawyers with progressive thought and all is not lost yet. Law colleges across the country should try to negate the influence of radical parties and factions upon the students. Similarly, progressive lawyers need to unite and form a bulwark against the rising tide of extremism in society in general and particularly in lawyers.
It is time for the “reason” to rise above “passion”. 

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