November 24, 2021

By Asha’ar Rehman

A few things do not change in Pakistan. You can always trust that the government of the time will do all within its power to maintain a rival, ready to take on and take over.

The latest Asma Jahangir Conference 2021 concluded with a message that the present setup was agile and up to the mark when it came to inventing ever newer ways to popularise their chief opponent. The government’s reaction to the planned PML-N heist, where Mian Nawaz Sharif was to surreptitiously run away with the show with his end-of-conference speech, was classic. It disconnected wires and let loose volleys of accusations at the organisers.

Maybe the government believes the attempt at sabotage had been prevented. Maybe according to its own logbook it did manage to thwart the ulterior ‘Sharif designs’ in aid of a purist set up under Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Circumstances bespeak another reality, however. The PML-N chief was unable to speak, yet the PML-N chief it was who ran away with honours from the AJConf venue in his hometown.

The Nawaz Sharif narrative has to be dealt with, sternly if you are among that group of our moral minders who cannot quite overcome his convict status and are afraid of him his political sources. They are not willing to grant any relief to those who have an altogether nefarious reason to urge Mian Sahab on the path where he goes on revealing those who he had once sided with to derail the then champions of democracy.

A few things which change do give us so much satisfaction. There’s no balm more magical than a judge admitting he had misjudged, and no comfort greater than a collaborator confessing that he had betrayed the constitution. But what can be done when the dominating question is: How can the Sharif onslaught, the so-called mischiefs by his hidden and open supporters, be tackled? Well if you are really looking for answers that offer progress, one lesson in how to deal with adversarial opposition on their pitch and in front of their home crowd was offered by both much-maligned and hugely-hailed conference itself.

High on its demand that dissenters be heard and that censorship should be done away with, the conference had a boisterous inaugural session where the senior judges of the country had gotten together to discuss the judiciary’s role in strengthening democracy. The session took a twist when firebrand lawyers’ leader Ali Ahmed Kurd raged in his usual style to amend the theme to the distance between the people and the courts, throwing in a general and a country of 22 crore people for good effect.

This sent shockwaves through the marquee. Kurd had brutally removed the veneer of academic discussion and unveiled it with its potential as a popular subject in today’s Pakistan.

There was an uproar and the organisers, otherwise sworn to opposing censorship, were constrained to intervene and remind the audience that this was no jalsa.

It was fortunate, however, that a person no less empowered and experienced than the Chief Justice of Pakistan was present on the occasion to come up with the best, the most apt, response to Kurd’s agitation. This was regardless of whether it was right or wrong for the visibly angry senior lawyer from Balochistan, to resort to the terse tone and mannerism in the company of judges, even if this didn’t happen inside a court but at a human rights conference.

It had been a while since Kurd had spoken but tension hung large inside the pindaal. Two senior court judges had shown their appreciation, or willing to, of parts from Kurd’s speech at the opening session of the AJConf when the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Gulzar Ahmed rose up to address the overflowing audience. Everyone was eager to know how the Chief Justice was going to react to what had happened in the session earlier. In the event, it didn’t take him long.

In a measured firm voice, Justice Gulzar spoke a few lines, sentences which were sufficient to effectively answer the question(s) Kurd had chosen to stun the conference with. He dispelled the lawyer’s allegations. He said judges were doing their best and that just like in the past, the judges were ready to quit if the time came.

That would have been an easier, more civilised course for those who went frantically after those internet wires to muzzle Mian Nawaz Sharif the next day. They could have let him speak and then offered their versions, condemning the PML-N chief and the organisers of the event to their heart’s content.



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