ISLAMABAD: How President Zardari’s PPP is using the Sindh Card to target the judiciary stands exposed if one sees the fashion in which Nawaz Sharif got his conviction set aside.
Nawaz Sharif’s conviction in the plane hijacking case was set aside by the Supreme Court in 2009, but neither he nor any member of his party gave racial colour to his case. Instead, he focused on the dictator, ignoring the judges altogether who had convicted him.
While Zardari’s PPP has been using the Sindh Card ever since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the NRO case, it would be interesting to see how Nawaz Sharif got himself acquitted from his conviction, without blaming any judge or exploiting regionalism.
On April 6, 2000, the presiding judge of the Anti Terrorism Court at Karachi convicted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the offence of hijacking. Who was that judge? His name was Rahmat Hussain Jaffri. He was born in Larkana, educated in Larkana, and he was a prominent member of the Larkana Bar.
When Nawaz Sharif appealed against his conviction, a three-member bench of the Sindh High Court heard the appeal and upheld Nawaz Sharif’s conviction. Who were those judges? Chief Justice Syed Saeed Ashad, Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany and Justice Wahid Bux Brohi.
Eight years later, when Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan, he filed a petition in the Supreme Court for setting aside of his conviction. In that petition, he pleaded that his petition may be converted into an appeal and his conviction may be set aside.
Most importantly, Nawaz Sharif’s petition catalogued the legal grounds on the basis of which his conviction was liable to be set aside, contained explanation for the eight-year delay in approaching the apex court and did not contain any racial allegations or the demand that Rahmat Hussain Jaffri and the three judges of High Court be tried under Article 6.
Nawaz Sharif’s petition was heard by a bench of five judges headed, not by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, but by the following five judges: Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani (Punjab), Justice Nasirul Mulk (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Justice Moosa K Leghari (Sindh PCO), Justice Sheikh Hakim Ali (Punjab PCO) and Justice Ghulam Rabbani (Sindh).
Most oddly, during the hearing, while Nawaz Sharif’s counsel conducted themselves in a most dignified manner, obviously on the instruction of the PPP government in Sindh, Prosecutor General, Sindh, Shahadat Awan, and Advocate General, Sindh, Yousuf Leghari, are on record as having strenuously opposed setting aside Nawaz Sharif’s conviction.
One of the grounds on which Advocate General, Sindh, Yousuf Leghari, opposed Nawaz Sharif’s petition was that he was filing this review petition/appeal plea after eight years and that the time for filing a review appeal had expired and the court had no powers to hear the review petition; therefore, the appeal be rejected. On July 17, 2009, the five-member bench announced a 55 page judgment, setting aside Nawaz Sharif’s conviction.
Either after his original conviction by a Sindhi judge or upholding of that conviction by judges of the SHC, Nawaz Sharif never tried to place the blame for his conviction on Sindhis as a race. Even when the Sindh government’s lawyers strongly opposed his acquittal on the basis that the Supreme Court had no power to condone the delay of eight years, Nawaz Sharif never raised the Sindhi issue. Nawaz Sharif always put the blame, where it belonged, on the shoulders of the dictator Musharraf.
However, in case of the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the president, in his reference, put the blame on the shoulders of the then judges instead of the dictator Ziaul Haq.
Nawaz Sharif, in his case, did not demand any action against Justice Rahmat Hussain Jaffri (who was then a judge of the Sindh High Court) nor against the three judges of the Sindh High Court, who had upheld his conviction.
Just six weeks after Nawaz Sharif’s acquittal from the Supreme Court, Justice Rahmat Hussain Jaffri was elevated to the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the chief justice of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif never criticised his elevation, let alone his trial and conviction under Article 6. This year, when the Judicial Commission recommended elevation of Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany to the Supreme Court, Parliamentary Committee’s members from the PML-N did not oppose his elevation. It was thus with the concurrence of the N-League members of Parliamentary Committee that Justice Sarmad Jalal was elevated as a Supreme Court judge on February 14, 2011.
But President Zardari, in order to put the Supreme Court on the defensive, is not really serious in getting ZAB’s conviction overturned. Instead, he wants to embarrass the apex court and target the judges who convicted ZAB by attracting Article 6.
Some important PPP leaders were opposed to the idea of moving a reference to the Supreme Court, but they were never heard. Some sources within the PPP believe that the proper way for getting ZAB’s conviction overturned is for ZAB’s legal heirs, Sanam Bhutto or Bilawal Zardari, to file a review petition in the Supreme Court, through their top legal eagles, pointing out concrete legal grounds on which ZAB’s conviction is liable to be set aside.
It is believed that this petition will have merit, and it could be contested so that it should be entertained by the Supreme Court. Ahmed Raza Kasuri, it is said, should be given full right of hearing while the Supreme Court could appoint the likes of Fakhruddin G Ibrahim, Abdul Hafeez Peerzada and Aitzaz Ahsan as amicus curia in this case.
But, it is generally believed that acquittal of ZAB is not what President Zardari wants. He is using the ZAB case as a tool to put the Supreme Court on the defensive. According to one legal expert, the Supreme Court could just turn the tables by directing the PPP to file a proper petition for setting aside the judgment in which ZAB was convicted, along with setting aside the grounds for doing so, and also explaining the 35-year delay.
According to the expert, there are numerous examples of ‘posthumous acquittals’ all over the world. He, on condition of not being named, said that Greek courts convicted three former prime ministers when it lost to Turkey, but 90 years later, on a formal application of one of the legal heirs, the court acquitted them posthumously. He added that in Romania too, their prime minister, who sided with German Nazis, was sentenced to death when Red Army conquered Romania in 1944, but recently, again on the application of his grandson in which the flaws in the original judgment were pointed out, after proper hearing, Romanian courts overturned the conviction.