A step towards a progressive Pakistan

Published: October 30, 2010
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The writer is contributing editor, The Friday Times

The writer is contributing editor, The Friday Times

Asma Jahangir’s victory in the Supreme Court Bar Association elections is a momentous event in the country’s political and legal landscape. Even the worst of her critics grudgingly admit that her principled stance has remained consistent in a country where intellectual honesty and integrity are in short supply. More importantly, her reasoned approach to recent bouts of judicial activism has been a source of strength for stakeholders in the democratic process. Almost every progressive Pakistani has been overjoyed with her election as head of a professional body which was on the verge of losing its credibility due to indulgence in partisan politics.

Since the lawyers’ movement created a stir in 2007, the bars had started to assume the role of a political party with an exaggerated notion of their power. Instead of focusing on what ailed legal education and the maligned profession, the regulators had turned into rowdy mobs, televangelists and spokespersons of the free and restored judges. Encouraged, a Supreme Court judge reportedly remarked how ‘popular will’ was above the Constitution. The pinnacle of this approach was the judgment in the NRO case. Asma Jahangir and a few other sensible lawyers highlighted the problematic aspects of the verdict. This was a game-changer and Jahangir was at the centre of this rational discourse.

Her detractors, which are many in a radicalised, post-jihad Pakistan, construed her independent view as affiliation with the government. This limited understanding of her persona and principles, ignoring nearly four decades of activism, was disingenuous at best. The tirade against her by a few zealots in the media even on the day of the election will go down in history as a shameful episode. Positioning her as an opponent of the judiciary was simply untenable as she has always been at the forefront of movements calling for an independent judiciary and democratic governance. Of course, the majority of senior lawyers have proved the media non-gurus wrong by discarding their biased rants.

Pakistan’s fragile democracy is compromised and corrupt; it can only evolve if adequate space is provided by the power players. Asma’s success comes at a time when a courageous voice, free of corporate interests, is required. Above all, her election is also significant for she is the first woman to hold this office, having defeated a wide coalition of right-wing lawyers who even used the Khatam-e Nabuwwat card to demolish her image and credentials.

Asma Jahangir has faced threats to her life and remains undaunted. She is the conscience of Pakistan and her international acclaim is based on her steadfastness, which our bigots wish to ignore. An Urdu columnist called her a danger to Islam and now the usual black-coated suspects are levelling charges that the government injected resources into her campaign. Obviously they have lost their control over the apex bar body and know that Asma will be a fearless and independent leader. They can worry for their agendas but liberal, democratic Pakistanis are rejoicing this much needed respite in the gloomy times that we live in.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • faraz
    Oct 30, 2010 - 5:53AM

    When these dishonest senior urdu columnists were constructing modern day Saladins out of ruthless, corrupt and shamefully hypocritical military dictators; it was this lady who faught for women and minority rights, democracy and rule of law. Recommend

  • Tehmina
    Oct 30, 2010 - 8:55AM

    This article was a bit short on what actually makes her qualified to be a SCBA president? Aside from the usual stuff about ~every progressive Pakistani’ , first woman president etc etc.. say what you will, but being the first woman xyz in Pakistan does not mean much (we have e.g the highest share of female parliamentarians in Pakistan) and Benazir was our first woman PM and look where all that has gotten us… so big deal!

    The author should have expanded on what exactly she has done that was such a ‘game changer’ vis-a-vis judicial activism. Now that would have been more interesting to read, and would have had more substance. Why was she better or worse than the other candidate.

    So please fewer platitudes, less opinion (or at least coming in only at the end) and more substance… otherwise we the non-urdu media will be pretty much left with shallow arguments based on zero logic.. pretty much the same as the urdu media which the author seems to dislike.Recommend

  • Oct 30, 2010 - 10:09AM

    Impartiality and a non partisan approach is the order of the day. But it is really very difficult to be fair and just. Let me wish her the very best of luck, GODSPEED and hang tough.

    With salams and best wishes.Recommend

  • Qazi
    Oct 30, 2010 - 10:35AM

    @Tehmina,

    Everybody knows that people like you are disappointed and no argument can convince you to think positively. As far as your question is concerned that what makes her qualified (for the well deserved victory against all odds), the writer has written enough. I think every person who can read and write English has got the point i.e. nearly four decades of an honest struggle for human rights and rule of law in a country where constitution (made by people) and/or basic human rights have been suspended in most of its life, in a country where an unholy alliance of Mullah and Military has distorted the history and put the entire nation on the road to destruction. In such a situation victory of liberal and democratic thinking against the rigid, hardliner, and hypocritical mindset is truly admirable. Legal fraternity behind Asma or any liberal and pro-democratic personality deserves to be praised. People who are engaged in business (dukandaari) due to their relations with judiciary should be apposed, and this just happened :)

    Great piece Rumi!Recommend

  • parvez
    Oct 30, 2010 - 1:01PM

    Congratulations to Asma. Chalk one up for the good guys (girl in this case).
    Nice balanced and informative article.Recommend

  • waqas sheikh
    Oct 30, 2010 - 1:01PM

    but what can asma do?? the self proclaimed secular,liberal ppp has failed miserably in doing anything in removing state sponspored discrimination,the ppp has done nothing about the law of evidence,when the proposal came up for treating muslim women a little like human beings in the matters of divorce,the ppp’s babar awan waved the islamic ghairat flag & shot down the proposal.
    what about the domestic abuse law?? stalled into oblivion.the odious blasphemy law hasn’t been repealed,the unfair law of inheritance remains.

    the legal prohibition on adopting children remains.those couples who adopt,their children can’t be legally called sons or daughters & these children get nothing as inheritance when the father dies as the court doesn’t recognize them as sons or daughters.

    why must our society continue to live in the times of the dark ages?? why does our constitution forbid a baby born in minority household from becoming president?? no matter how much abuse we heap on india & america,at least they’ve not legally enshrined discrimination against their minorities.Recommend

  • Adeel Ahmed
    Oct 30, 2010 - 2:12PM

    Asma Jahangir’s election, if you can call it, proves that money talks and every man has his price.
    90 crore rupees circulated the lawyers by Mr. I give Quran dars… this result was never a doubt.

    But I think the government has bet on the wrong horse and Ms. Asma will never support the government against their illegal motives and actions, ie support NRO.Recommend

  • R. Khan
    Oct 30, 2010 - 6:24PM

    Excellent Article! We are proud of you Asma. Down with Urdu journalism fed by Mullah’s hatred for anything logical and out to destroy Pakistan. We want a liberal, secular & outward looking Pakistan not Zia ul Haq’s Pakistan. Recommend

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