The former Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Khawaja Muhammad Sharif, has volunteered to represent Mumtaz Qadri. Ordinarily, a lawyer representing a client is an unremarkable phenomenon, even those accused of heinous crimes. The lowest of low amongst the criminals deserves a fair trial and adequate legal representation. The views and motivations of the client cannot and should not be attributed to that of the attorney. After all, a lawyer is just making a living. This is true ordinarily, but this particular case is anything but ordinary.
The former Chief Justice is not merely making a living by offering to spearhead Mumtaz Qadri’s defence, and if I were to speculate he is probably doing it pro bono. Justice (r) Sharif has decided to pander to his perceived constituency, i.e. the radical, reactionary religious right. At a feebly more principled level, he might even have delusions of grandeur and perceive himself as following in the footsteps of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who decided to represent “Ghazi Illam Din” in an appellate court. I am sure Mr Jinnah would have had better days in court than this singular example. In any event, the argument for the permissibility of Justice (r) Sharif representing Mumtaz Qadri is rather simple; as long as there is no conflict of interest (or any other relevant prohibition in the Bar Council Rules) an attorney can choose to represent anyone who he wishes to. So Justice (r) Sharif had the right to defend anyone he wants to, the question now remains, should he have chosen to defend this particular client? The answer to this question can only be given by the former Chief Justice. My prerogative is that I now think less of Justice (r) Sharif than what I already did (mind you there was very little room). Yet, the symbolism in throwing the weight of a former Chief Justice and according to some of the lawyers’ movement behind Mumtaz Qadri leads to the logical question of where did the lawyers’ movement go wrong?
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. It was an unhappy mix to see lawyers, who bragged about their ‘leftist Marxist’ credentials in private, sharing the stage, and at times the rhetoric, with theocratic fascists. 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.
The protests presented a comical situation in a dark, sardonic way. The Amir of the Jamaat-i-Islami addressing congregations of lawyers about how western imperial forces were conspiring to spread ‘kufr’ in Pakistan through Pervez Musharraf and how the sacking of the superior judiciary was a step in that direction. This would be followed by recitation of poems by leftist lawyers, mentioning Che Guevara. 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. General Charles de Gaulle was once asked about his reluctance to recognise Communist rule in Eastern Europe as permanent and he glibly quoted Althusser and said, “Parce-que l’avenir dure longtemps” (‘The future lasts for a long time’). The top echelon of the lawyers’ movement failed to recognise that in certain battles the fight is more important than the outcome.
Whereas the religious rightist component of the lawyers’ movement is almost obscenely visible, there has been a curious reluctance by the liberal, elite leadership to comment on the murder of Salmaan Taseer. A phrase that I have used in the past to describe the reaction of our champions of liberalism and restrain myself from overusing is Habib Jalib’s: “Jinn ko tha zabaan pay naaz, chup hain who zabaan daraaz” (‘Those who took pride in their voice, today they stand silent’). It is only appropriate that one of the top guns now stands up to the occasion and publicly volunteers to represent the complainant and assist the prosecution. This should have no effect on the conviction, which I dearly hope remains clear in view of the confession, nonetheless it would send a very strong and much-needed message to the nation that not all lawyers are a group of Mumtaz Qadri fan club or sympathisers. Having said that, it is highly unlikely that someone will, since most of them are extremely busy these days attempting to recover financially (and presumably doing it quite well) for the time lost in the lawyers’ movement.
As far as the innate desire of the lawyers now to protest, well there is a lot going on to feed them. Exhibit ‘A’ is the news that ten Ahmadi students and an Ahmadi teacher were expelled from a school in Hafizabad for the unpardonable offence of being Ahmadis. I never expected Justice (r) Sharif to volunteer legal representation in this case but I still have a very faint hope that a liberal leader of the lawyers’ movement will step forward, and fainter still of a suo motu.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2011.