In the absence of the prime minister (not that his presence would have made a difference) one of his close huddle of ruling party members, and one firm ally, have been way out of line when it comes to the Pakistani male’s attitude towards the nation’s womenfolk. The malignant mullah of the Senate and the prominent minister (those ‘honourable’ members of parliament) launched themselves way over the top.
MNA Shirin Mazari is well deserving of her privilege motion, and as with Panama, it should not get lost in one our famed cover-ups. Khawaja Asif, whose one redeeming feature is his neat head of naturally grey hair, flowing with nature, not Cherry Blossom blackened or synthetic as with quite a few of his mates. But he has a volatile background when it comes to words and deeds.
He’s been with us since 1991, one of our long-lasting parliamentary products. During his second coming with Nawaz Sharif, in April 1998, Khawaja moved a privilege motion against Ardeshir Cowasjee, accusing him of having used “abusive language” and “threatened him with dire consequences”, claiming that his privilege had been abused. Ardeshir was summoned to appear before the Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privilege. He pondered on the legality of leveling unsubstantiated allegations against a citizen and sent off a letter raising queries and issues. He continued to be summoned and in July received a terse response baldly stating that the points raised have no force. Later that month the Speaker, his old friend, requested him to appear and get it over with. In August he received a further summons and was called by the commissioner of Karachi informing him that the Committee chairman had issued a warrant ordering the Sindh government to arrest and produce him before the committee. Reluctantly, he agreed.
His team of lawyers drafted an eight-point statement to be presented to the Committee (quoting, inter alia, the five points raised in his letter) and off he went. The statement mainly dealt with whether the frivolous motion had any bearing on the national interest, the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech and expression, and any law giving the Committee the right to summon a citizen for an alleged breach of privilege without any prima-facie evidence. (The statement of record was reproduced in Ardeshir’s column “A Matter of Honour?” published in Dawn, August 8, 1999). One direct quote only:
“2) Have you taken into account that Khwaja Asif is a director of the defaulting Sialkot Dairies which is liable to return huge loans to many banks, including the ADBP, to which it owes many millions of rupees (last reported figure, some 60 million)? Have you taken into account the fact that Khwaja Asif is a man certainly not known for the modesty of his verbal language, but renowned for his proficiency in expressing himself through his body language which is unmatched even by his peers? Have you taken into account that, to his eternal shame, he has to his discredit a share in the storming of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on November 28, 1997? Have you taken into account that he has to his everlasting discredit the committing of a physical assault upon the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Advocate Muhammad Akram Shaikh, within the premises of the Supreme Court on November 17, 1997, an assault which caused his victim bodily harm? Before enquiring into his privileges you might care to enquire into the above incidents and also as to how it is that a director of a defaulting company was elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan.”
It ended by affirming that “I am not here today because of any misconception about the validity of your summons or the legality of the privilege claimed. I am here because freedom of expression is a fundamental right, guaranteed by the Constitution, which must be defended by me and which, I am sure, will be upheld by you.”
There was no further hearing.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2016.