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Let the law take its course

Lahore

May 14, 2020

“Better injustice than disorder” Jacques Ellul traces the development of the acknowledged civilised cultures and concludes that law, in operation, becomes an instrument of the state; nothing more or less; accounting for the gradual substitution of justice with social order as the end to be achieved. Could there be order without justice? Whatever happened to courtroom echo of Fiat justitia ruat caelum (Let justice be done though the heavens fall)? Even Hollywood got in early nineties, with the famous “we don’t live in a court room, now do we?”

Hammurabi’s Code, one of the first ever forms of law, developed by sixth Babylonian king around 1754 BC adopted the modern-day bitterly truthful sarcasm of “bigger cars have a right of way” in the enforceable law; “If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one destroy the eye of a man’s slave or break a bone of a man’s slave he shall pay one-half his price”. Can citizens of this ever bleeding land find comfort in the constitutional overturning the Hammurabi’s Code by declaring “equality before law” or the frequent attempts of judiciary of reminding the rest of the state organs what it means and how it is to be observed? But we too, don’t live in the court room.

In a post-Panama Pakistan, our senses are repeatedly tantalised with the electrifying news of Pakistan’s legislators’ (former or in some cases current) proscribed enrichment with zeros beyond imaginative calculation of a common man. NAB, being the corruption watchdog, comes into action and with tired eyes, we are forced to watch a huge outflow of political mudslinging, legal battles and the debates, miserably intellectualising the archaic concepts of interplay of accountability and human rights of the accused. Put the scenario on repeat mode and we will all be living fallacy of the sunk cost; an ordinary man having invested all his age, energy and resources in this country desperately trying to see the light at the end of seemingly endless dark tunnel.

Reserved for itself the most succulent,

The central coast of my own land,

The delicate waist of the Americas.

It rechristened its territories

As the “Banana Republics”,

And over the sleeping dead,

Over the restless heroes

Who brought about the greatness,

The liberty and the flags,

It established a comic opera.

(Pablo Neruda)

Not unexpected for many, Speaker of Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and his parliamentarian cousin, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain; of whom more appropriate contextual reference would be the controlling leaders of Pakistan Muslim League (Q), a vital ally of the current PTI regime; have rushed to seek the protection of Lahore High Court from their apprehensive strike from NAB in cases pending against them since early 2000’s.

Their legal entitlement to the grant of their sought relief from the court or the allowed purview of the investigation by NAB is a courtroom debate; one best evaluated by the honourable holders of the bench. The law, anyway, being an organiser of individual functions, constitutes only a part of the larger science of social harmony and order.

The debate, having been dragged out of the courtroom and the zeal to fight the case on public media (freedom of speech, remember) takes its toll on the collective psyche of the now restless, skeptic and even scared nation and thus increasingly require response to the cliché questions, a layman is most likely to be bothered by; why rush to the court before any case set for trial, if you are not guilty? why attack the proceedings of NAB now when none was felt troublesome in past about 20 years? and the most disturbing one, should the highest political office holders be tarnishing the state institutions? Does the law permit them to throw a challenge at NAB, which whom a few dormant files are lying? The answer is a resounding, yes. But how would the common citizen describe his country with the accused yelling at investigating agencies asserting political victimisation and NAB claiming its right to dig out the details of their foreign assets through invocation of the state’s right to seek mutual legal assistance with the countries allegedly allowing our rulers to stash their booty?

A member of the legal fraternity; be it a lawyer or a judge, would view this with a hint of concern visualising how political elites have dumped their part of accountability on judiciary; where every other person is programmed by electronic and print media to have his opinion about how the law and constitution should work and the judicial decisions are scrutinised like an ordinary piece of English language. But a layman is exasperated to find out if “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than the others” (Animal Farm by George Orwell)? Since the route adopted by our rulers, though certainly fall within their constitutionally allowed rights, seem beyond the reach of a common citizen, who would not have an expected illegal access to the official documents of NAB’s internal record and opinions which could be blatantly used, without any apparent apprehension of repercussions, to strengthen a feeble cause. With the whole media following and reporting each and every development, we, the children of a lesser God, watch in awe, how the powerful play their cards.

Did Speaker of Punjab Assembly and his cousin, member of the Parliamentary Committee on Judges Appointment in the superior courts made those illegal appointments, defaulted their state liabilities or made their offshore empire shall be adjudged by whoever is burdened with the task by the law. But do we deserve to be comforted that we pay taxes to sponsor the salaries of an investigating agency that at least our rulers have trust in or should we brace for the time when chief ministers would be suing the revenue department for hindering a simple mutation? Sue all you want but spare me the hope getting things fixed through your office.

Could there be any justification appealing a legal mind of hindering the right of anyone to challenge whatever he perceives is to his detriment, No. But would the Transparency International note another indicator of institutional decay with the dirt thrown on NAB. Faced with an adversarial situation, how long should a parliamentarian wait before he decides to shatter the trust of every single citizen in the very agency which the parliamentarians themselves retain on government payroll claiming the expenditure vital for the goodness of people. There is really no single black and white answer to this. The parliamentarians claim the highest source of power capable of rising the country to sky or dashing it to ground; shouldn’t they be a little more patient when put on a stand? After all, their claim to their offices flow from a moral image and not some enlisted eligibility criteria to a certain post.

The legal objections of paucity of incriminating evidence, delayed action and victimisation could all be true or untrue; only a judge can decide. But your subjects deserve to know that the cases against you were dismissed because you proved yourself innocent after due process of law and not that cases against you were knocked out because some Is were not dotted or some Ts were not crossed. Once bitten, twice shy; having been plagued with the told and untold history of Pakistani politicians gruesome ravage of our resources, we are desperate to know that you were cautioned by Saadi Sherazi and conducted yourself accordingly:

“Let the monarch eat but one apple from the peasant’s orchard, and his guards or slaves will pull up the tree from its roots. From the plunder of five eggs, that the king shall sanction, his troops will stick a thousand fowls on their spits.”

Please do not mystify a common citizen with the incomprehensible debates about jurisdiction, mala fide or lack of admissible evidence. Help us believe that justice is not in the service of the state; it even claims the right to judge the state. If NAB twists the arms of Speaker of a provincial assembly and an acclaimed parliamentarian, allow your nation to believe that it is heading towards a direction where law would take its course against the most mighty and their elected rulers shall happily surrender; not because the law has its sanction but because they prefer to wash the blot on their integrity rather than wriggling out of the process on technicalities. Jonathan Swift told us long ago that laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through, just as Hammurabi’s Code openly claimed. Please do not come out as a hornet breaking through the technical cobweb; help your voters vote for you again; not because you can make or shake their destiny but because you proved yourself worthy of the office. For once, let the people lost in the maize of endless battles in court believe they are no more governed by kakistocracy, eliminate the threat of disorder so that law doesn’t have to choose between justice or disorder; for this wretched nation is still at the stage where Faiz left it:

Bujha jo rauzan-e-zindañ to dil ye samjha hai

ki teri maañg sitaroñ se bhar gai hogi

chamak uthe haiñ salasil to ham ne jaana hai

ki ab sahar tere rukh par bikhar gai hogi

gharaz tasavvur-e-sham-o-sahar meñ jeete haiñ

giraft-e-saya-e-divar-o-dar meñ jeete haiñ

gar aaj tujh se juda haiñ to kal baham hoñge

ye raat bhar ki judai to koi baat nahiñ

gar aaj auj pe hai tala-e-raqib to kya

ye chaar din ki khudai to koi baat nahiñ

jo tujh se ahd-e-vafa ustuvar rakhte haiñ

ilaj-e-gardish-e-lail-o-nahar rakhte haiñ

The writer is a high court advocate.