By S. M. Hali
‘The road not taken’ is a well known poem by the American bard Robert Frost, first published in 1916. Its opening lines are:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
Renowned scholar Eleanor Sickels claims that the poem is about "the human tendency to wobble illogically in decision”; while littérateur Robert Faggen interprets it as “an ironic commentary on the autonomy of choice in a world governed by instincts, unpredictable contingencies, and limited possibilities.” In the case Pakistan’s defunct Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, the interpretation is quite different. The ousted PM faced two stark choices, one to abide by the instructions of the Supreme Court or ignore it at his own peril. According to Gilani, his choice was limited by the extent of punishment: for flouting the dictates of the Parliament is the death penalty; while the consequence of contempt of court may be six months imprisonment; hence he chose incarceration over fatality. However, the redundant Prime Minister had another option; he could have taken the road to self respect by voluntarily rendering his resignation the moment his conviction became imminent, but he chose the road to ignominy and public humiliation by continuing to stick to power despite having been found guilty and sentenced on 26 April 2012. Had he left of his own accord, he would have earned sympathy and respect even of his opponents.
Unfortunately, the now invalid Prime Minister refused to quit and also gave free reign to his allies, cohorts and thugs try to browbeat the judiciary in an effort to blackmail it through sting operations so that it may withdraw the cases against the President and Prime Minister. A more sinister plot was hatched to expose the sycophant elements in the media too and lay the blame on the military so that bad blood is created between the two pillars of state, Army and the Judiciary.
What is more disturbing is that some elements of the judicial community, who apparently struggled for the restoration of the judiciary, are today the biggest critics of the free and fair legal system now prevalent in Pakistan. Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan had endeared himself to common Pakistanis, who had taken to the streets to express solidarity with the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, braving the baton charges and crackdown by the former President and military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. His constant appearances beside the CJP had made him a household name. However, his conduct in defence of Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and later, the business tycoon and alleged kingmaker Malik Riaz, brought a sharp decline in his prestige and respect. The other person from the lawyers’ community, is Asma Jahangir, ex-President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan and a proclaimed human rights activist with social standing of a significant celebrity, who has now become the biggest critic of the CJP, the judiciary and Armed Forces of Pakistan.
As soon as the epoch making decision of the Supreme Court disqualifying Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani was announced, Asma Jahangir declared the verdict as dubious and criticized the honourable justices who had reached the verdict. She opined that the larger bench had declared that the PM “maybe”disqualified but how come the lesser three member bench categorically declared the PM defunct?Moreover, she could not restrain herself from making snide comments regarding the advice of the Judiciary to the President that he should take steps to retain democracy. She commented that “the judiciary should remain in its limits; it has no business advising the President on how to run the country! Tomorrow it will be advising surgeons on how to operate on patients.”
Earlier, Ms. Jahangir had leveled serious charges against the custodians of Pakistan’s territorial integrity, the Armed Forces and the intelligence agencies claiming that she was receiving threats to her life. It was a sorry state of affairs that being an active and vibrant member of the judicial community, a champion of human rights and a social worker, she insinuated and alleged that the armed forces of Pakistan and its intelligence agencies were plotting to bodily harm her. There are two serious aspects to this serious accusation. Firstly, the edifice of national institutions like Armed Forces and other associated intelligence agencies is built on organizational prestige, good will and esteemed image. Since their professional duties demand higher degree of discipline, commitment to cause and loyalty to the state, therefore, nation states make all out efforts to protect their pledges and support their operations conducted to protect the national interests. Unfair criticism and biased allegations against own intelligence agencies result into creation of negative impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of these agencies, especially when the allegations/insinuations come from an august and prominent personality like Ms. Asma Jahangir.
Every law abiding citizen of Pakistan would and should not only condemn the assassination threats made against the person of Ms. Asma Jahangir, but one would expect that being a member of the legal community and having served as the ex-President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, she would provide concrete evidence supporting her very serious charges. Unfortunately, a prolific legal brain like her, who is quick to jump to the rescue of the oppressed and downtrodden, did not resort to the Supreme Court armed with proof of the deadly threats and seek justice. Instead, like some of the politicians, who resort to washing dirty linen in public and hurl baseless allegations and insinuations only to score brownie points with their supporters and bring their opponents down, Ms. Asma Jahangir too has played to the gallery through her negative assertions, sans evidence.
If that were not enough to cast aspersions on her own credibility, Ms. Asma Jahangir further alleges that as she represents the progressive forces of Pakistan who are working hard to resolve the issue of missing persons, therefore, the establishment wanted to silent her voice. She also linked her case with Dr Arsalan Iftikhar – Malik Riaz conspiracy hatched to malign the Chief Justice, who was also hearing cases against intelligence agencies pertaining to the missing persons. Apparently her personal vendetta against the Armed Forces and intelligence agencies has blinded her judgment.
One would expect a person of her stature to shed her biases apparently at the behest of her international acquaintances and approach the Supreme Court of Pakistan and get the investigations done in her assassination threat case. This would be the moral high ground and the correct road to take.