Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry asked Federal Minister for Law Babar Awan to come prepared for a detailed hearing of the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto case, after Awan presented his resignation to plead the case on the court’s directives.
A three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) adjourned the hearing of the presidential reference which was submitted by the law ministry after it was signed by President Asif Ali Zardari earlier this month, until Thursday.
The apex court also asked to appoint 10 more lawyers to help in the case which is being dubbed as the re-trial of the century.
Around 50 parliamentarians of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were present in the court.
Speaking to the media outside the court, Awan said he did not believe in the politics of revenge and that there was a need to purge the country of injustice.
He said that the PPP had been struggling for 32 years to bring those involved in the case to justice.
Updated from print edition (below)
ZA Bhutto case: PPP gears up for ‘retrial of the century
As the country braces for what could be a tumultuous reopening of one of the darkest chapters of its history, the government has appointed Law Minister Dr Babar Awan as the lawyer for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s retrial case which starts today (Wednesday) in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
An expressive Awan pledged that he will quit from his ministerial post if it becomes a hurdle in the way of his pleading the case, which he dubbed the “(re)trial of the century”. Receiving written orders from the authorities, Awan was on Tuesday officially notified by the law ministry as the legal representative to appear before the apex court today.
President Asif Ali Zardari had sent a reference last week seeking the retrial of the ZA Bhutto case, which culminated in a long-debated guilty verdict over three decades ago – ultimately resulting in the hanging of the country’s first elected prime minister in 1979. The presidential reference contended that the late party chairman was not given justice and that the courts today should correct this.
The Pakistan Peoples Party government is throwing its entire political weight behind the case, and is set to pull all stops to demonstrate how important the matter is to them.
Awan is to be assisted by the attorney general and deputy attorney generals, secretary law Masood Chisti and a number of other lawyers.
In a late-night meeting at the Prime Minister House, it was also decided that a total of 60 high-level leaders will accompany the law minister to the Supreme Court building. The leaders will include federal ministers as well as representatives from the Senate, National Assembly, the four provincial assemblies and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The contingent of 60 leaders will gather for breakfast at the Parliament House on Wednesday morning, from where they are to march towards the Supreme Court building. For this purpose, the leaders have already arrived in Islamabad. Those that are expected to turn up for proceedings of the case will include Chairman Senate Farooq Naik, Speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza, Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah, Chief Minister Balochistan Lashkar Raisani and Speaker Sindh Assembly Nisar Khuhro.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Law Minister Dr Babar Awan confirmed his appointment as lawyer in the ZA Bhutto case. “Yes, I have been conveyed this officially, and will file the papers [to this effect] in the court on Wednesday”.
When questioned how he could fight the case as the serving law minister, Awan replied that he would inform honourable judges that the president, who had sent the reference, had now appointed him, but added that, if anyone raised objections, he would immediately tender his resignation from his post.
“For me, it’s a great honour to be the lawyer of ZAB in his retrial [as compared to] staying a federal minister, because it’s the trial of the century”, said Awan emphatically. He recalled that ZA Bhutto’s daughter, the late prime minister Benazir, had once said to him that the case’s verdict might have been different if he (Awan) had contested it.
“You don’t just defend your client, you actually wage war for his or her right in the courtroom”, Awan quoted Benazir as telling him during one of her case hearings in the mid ’90s.
Sources privy to the consultations in the lead-up to the case said that there was plenty of discussion on who should be sent to the court to fight the case, which is being given tremendous importance by the ruling party. The top leaders, including the president, are said to have chosen the name of the law minister Awan – who had actually penned the presidential reference.
“Whether the ZAB case should be reopened or revisited – this is the question which will be raised in the Courtroom No 1 today,” said a senior lawyer.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is to take up the case. Justice Muhammad Sair Ali and Justice Ghulam Rabbani are the other members of the bench.
Law Ministry sources told The Express Tribune that the government legal team is likely to point out the statement of Justice (retd) Nasim Hassan Shah, who reportedly confessed that there was immense pressure on judges who awarded death penalty to ZAB.
(With additional input by Zahid Gishkori)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2011.