Majesty of Law

By: Mir Jamilur Rahman

People last week saw the operation of justice in all its majesty. The 17 judges of the Supreme Court declared unanimously that an accused person cannot be absolved of charges by an act of parliament. An ordinance promulgated by the president has the same force and effect as an act of parliament (Article 89(2)). President Musharraf, the product of a sham referendum, had conceived and promulgated the NRO to acquire legitimacy and another tenure and clean the slate for about 8,500 NAB-hit people, which included politicians, bureaucrats and party functionaries. They were accused of corruption and other criminal acts and undergoing trials in Ehtisab Courts. But the NRO washed out all accusations pending against them. However, Musharraf’s machination failed miserably because the PPP government gave him neither legitimacy nor another term. Heart-broken, Musharraf left the country to take shelter in London.
The NRO was a repugnant law. It made larceny an honourable profession and political murders a pastime. No court in the world would have given it legal sanctity; least of all the court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. It was such an obnoxious law that the government chose not to defend it in the Supreme Court. Even the National Assembly, which is usually referred to as a rubberstamp, threw it out. Parliament could have abrogated it which would bring much-needed laurels to the PPP government. But it thought otherwise and threw down the challenge to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court patiently heard the petition for 10 days and declared the NRO null and void.

People were expecting fireworks following the verdict. They thought that all hell would break loose and those who had benefited from the illegitimate NRO would disappear from the scene. It is not as simple as that. The Supreme Court was not fighting a war nor was it trying some politicians and bureaucrats for their misdeeds. It was simply trying to discover the truth about the NRO, which it did to a great extent. The Supreme Court has opened up the Pandora’s Box and now it is up to civil society, the media, lawyers and honest politicians — if such a species exists — to cleanse it of evil spirits.

The victory gained in the Supreme Court is being frittered away by an exchange of invectives between the opposing parties. Raja Riaz Ahmed, senior minister in the Punjab cabinet and divisional president of the PPP, said in a rally in Faisalabad: “Sindh had received two dead bodies (ZAB and Benazir) but now the next body will be destined for Punjab”. The process of elimination would reveal the identity of the third body.

It is a very serious turn of events that the PPP and the PML-N have adopted a confrontation course. If it continued, the SC verdict would lose its electrical effect. The best course for both the parties would be to respect the verdict and carry out its injunctions in letter and spirit.

President Zardari should not waste more time in making good governance his top priority. He should abandon his oft-repeated remark that he is ‘yarun ka yar’ (a friend of friends). There are no friendships at the top. Good governance demands that he change his friends periodically. Moreover, he is not required to make statements rebutting every criticism. It is often better to leave the repartee to underlings. When a former British premier, Clement Attlee, was told that he speaks very little, he answered, “You don’t keep a dog and bark yourself”.

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One response to “Majesty of Law

  1. “…an accused person cannot be absolved of charges by an act of parliament”

    Agreed. And an accused also person cannot be convicted by an act of angry mobs. Best course of action is to have quick hearing of NRO cases. If there is proof of guilt, then there is proof of guilt. But if there is no proof – and proof does not mean rumours, innuendos, political vengeance, or anti-Sindhi racism – then the person’s name should be cleared and there should be no more complaining.

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