Asma Jahangir becomes the first woman to be elected president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), the highest ranking union of lawyers in the country. Unusually, this year the campaign spilled well beyond the lawyers community and emerged as a high-profile, political issue used as a tool in the ongoing tussle between the judiciary and the government. The election of Jahangir, in a hard-fought battle against her rival Ahmed Awais, will have an impact on these relations. But it is immensely simplistic to say that Jahangir, as a ‘pro-government’ candidate, will try to cut the judiciary down to size.
Jahangir has stressed her independent standing and, while the PPP government was obviously not averse to her victory, especially given her arch rivals’ close association with the Tehreek-i-Insaf, the new SCBA president is not a person likely to toe anyone’s line. She has demonstrated this repeatedly through her career — taking on the martial law regime of General Yahya Khan early in her career and then going on to battle successive dictators with equal vigour. She could also play a role in bridging the uncomfortable divide that threatens our system. While the issue has been highly polarised, with allegations surfacing that Jahangir is ‘anti’ Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, it should not be forgotten that she was among the lawyers who marched in favour of his restoration.
Asma Jahangir is a figure the conservatives hate and the liberals love. She is among the few individuals who have had the courage to defend men accused of blasphemy, to speak out for the rights of women and to openly state support for secularist ideals. We need desperately to fight against the orthodoxy that threatens to destroy us. As a figure with international standing, Jahangir could play a key role in this.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2010.