Sunday January 16, 2022

Voices in the dark

November 28, 2021

We have heard some voices lately that we cannot fully decipher. Some of these voices relate to the past and others express the pain of living in the present. Very much like an individual who is mentally and emotionally disturbed, this country is passing through a very difficult phase in its history. Will it give a fair hearing to the voices I am alluding to in a metaphorical sense?

But there are also voices that demand attention in a literal context. For instance, there is this alleged audio leak of former chief justice Saqib Nisar. Irrespective of its authenticity, the point it makes has resonated with some voices that were raised at the Asma Jahangir Conference held in Lahore last weekend.

That audio clip featuring the retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan has justifiably raised a political storm. Coming in the wake of a number of other revelations, it raises very serious questions about the credibility of the system, with a specific focus on pressures that were allegedly put on the judiciary to restrain the freedom of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam and to facilitate Imran Khan’s rise to power.

The gist of what Saqib Nisar is said to be saying in the leak is: “Let me be a little blunt about it. Unfortunately, here it is the institutions that dictate judgments”. The leak was posted on FactFocus website with the claim that the US-based firm Garret Discovery had conducted a forensic examination to certify its authenticity.

A spokesperson of the firm confirmed this to the London correspondent of The News, Murtaza Ali Shah, saying that the certificate was issued after the professional test requirements were made. This would provide more credence to the demand that a high-level judicial commission should be formed to look into this matter.

In her press conference on Wednesday, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz asked the former chief justice to not hide behind the institution. It is about time institutions did some introspection, she added. She invoked previous revelations made by former justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, the late judge of the accountability court Arshad Malik, the former director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Bashir Memon and, more recently, the former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Shamim.

A measure of the impact that Maryam Nawaz was able to make was available in how the federal ministers were ready to take her on and even Prime Minister Imran Khan referred to her by name when he termed the former chief justice’s audio leak a ‘drama’. Interestingly, Maryam Nawaz admitted that it was her own voice in an audio clip about refusing ads to certain TV channels.

Among other things, the emergence of this audio clip brings up not so pleasant memories of the time when Saqib Nisar was chief justice. His was certainly a tenure full of drama and thrill. There was his passion for building the dam and he had succeeded in making it a national preoccupation. Donations were collected almost on a war footing. Now you can make your own judgment of how prudent that campaign was and what finally came of it.

Meanwhile, we will have to wait and see what impact the audio leak will have on the evolving political situation. Considering the steady disclosures of sensational audio and video clips, one gets the impression that there is somewhere a hidden treasure of secret recordings of high officials and leading politicians – and they will emerge, like time bombs, at different times.

But we do not need these spectacular revelations to find the truth of what has actually happened, and how things have been managed. It was against the backdrop of this history that some sharp and even shrill voices were raised in the Asma Jahangir Conference, particularly to question the role that the judiciary has played.

There was that stirring and provocative speech made by Ali Ahmad Kurd, the firebrand leader of the lawyers’ movement. With his delivery and his tempo, he electrified the large audience of social activists and defenders of human rights. Slogans were raised and a lot of excitement was generated. This show of emotion may not have been appropriate, but the content of Ali Ahmad Kurd’s presentation was worthy of serious deliberation. “What judiciary are you talking about?”, quizzed Kurd.

On the one hand, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad was prompted to defend his institution and dismissed the notion of the judiciary being “under pressure”. On the other hand, Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah made a thoughtful response to Ali Ahmad Kurd’s angry intervention. In fact, he thanked Kurd for opening the dialogue.

Justice Minallah cited the Nusrat Bhutto and Zafar Ali Shah verdicts of the Supreme Court and said they were part of history and could not be erased. “It is very important for us to know what the bar and what the people think about us”, he remarked.

There is a lot about what transpired during the Asma Jahangir Conference that demands to be highlighted. It was an inspirational occasion for those who are striving for peace, democracy and human rights and it had the radiance of the memory of Asma Jahangir, who was unrivalled in her struggle for the rights of all citizens of Pakistan. She was one of the very few individuals who became the pride of this country.

One tribute that the authorities paid to the conference was that the internet connection was disrupted and wires at the venue were when it was time for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to address the concluding session from London.

There is an indication here that Nawaz Sharif remains the main concern of what is defined as a hybrid regime, and the political confusion that is reflected in the latest audio leak is not about to be resolved. Are there some more leaks, audio or video, in the offing? Be that as it may, the higher judiciary is sure to have an opportunity to show whether it is under pressure or not.

The writer is a senior journalist.