A coveted cabinet position was sacrificed by Babar Awan, who resigned as federal law minister on Wednesday before a bench hearing the presidential reference on the 1979 ‘judicial murder’ of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Awan requested the three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to allow him to appear in the reference. Awan tendered his resignation to the bench after the chief justice observed that he could not be permitted to argue the case as the federal law minister.
The chief justice directed Awan to first present his resignation to the relevant authorities, surrender the portfolio of the law ministry as well as any other offices he holds, renew his licence from the Pakistan Bar Council, and then appear before the court.
“I have decided to resign today to appear in this reference in accordance with the rules of the Supreme Court and I have informed the prime minster of my decision,” Awan said. He went on to declare, “Bhutto and not Babar Awan will represent himself in the case”.
The chief justice observed that the case is of “historic significance.”
“A minister had appeared in the case during the dictatorship,” he said, referring to General Ziaul Haq’s regime. “We will not allow history to repeat itself.”
“Illegal traditions will not be allowed to continue in a democracy,” he added.
The chief justice remarked that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a person of international stature who was equally popular in Pakistan and abroad.
“We will constitute a larger bench for the presidential reference. If need be, the court will hear this reference day and night,” he said. Court assistants will be hired from the provinces and the federation. The hearing of the reference was adjourned until Thursday (today).
After the adjournment, Babar Awan applied to the Pakistan Bar Council for the renewal of his licence and submitted a copy of his resignation. His resignation has been accepted by the acting president and Senate Chairman Farooq Naek.
Babar Awan, who was surrounded by several federal ministers and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) workers, told reporters outside the Supreme Court that his sacrifice of a ministry paled in comparison to the people who had sacrificed their lives. “Had I been the prime minister, I would have forsaken the premiership to appear in the reference as a counsel.”
“It is an honour for me to assist the court in the Bhutto reference,” he added
Hearings of the case, which is set to be one of the most high-profile of the year, will be attended by the party leaders of as well.
On April 2, President Asif Ali Zardari sent a reference to the Supreme Court of Pakistan to revisit the case of the ‘judicial murder’ of the former prime minister. The reference was sent under Article 186 of the Constitution.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2011.