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Truth and reconciliation


By Imtiaz Gul

 The Friday Times, April 26, 2013


The way Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court and Justice Kausar Zaidi of Islamabad Anti-Terrorist Court have handled former president Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf's case has raised legal concerns. 

But the unruly conduct several lawyers have displayed since Musharraf's bail application was rejected is indicative of a larger mindset. Lawyers are custodians of law, but by assuming the role of anti-Musharraf vigilantes, they have hurt their own image. Lawyers have also been at the center of many brawls recently, including against the police and tax officers. 

Lawyers and their supporters have condemned militants and criticized dictators because they believe in the rule of law. We also are outraged when crowds go on a rampage - stoning and torching public property when the owners of this property have the least to do with the cause. But we are equally concerned about the new, alarming precedents that raise several fundamental questions about personal and professional conduct that are critical in a democracy. 

The first major question is, how should we react when law practitioners themselves turn into unruly mobs, ready to lynch or run down their object when the law is already in action? What law are the lawyers upholding? By attacking Musharraf supporters, they are essentially flouting the fundamental rights of these citizens of Pakistan.

Secondly, how can we address concerns about conflict of interest, such as those raised against Justice Siddiqui, to ensure the integrity of the decisions of the honorable court?

Musharraf's supporters say he was neither a fugitive nor in hiding. He had returned on his own and appeared before the court, underlining his readiness to let the law take its course.

But his "escape" from the court after the rejection of the bail petition turned him into a subject of ridicule, scorn, and criticism that he is disrespectful towards the law. 

Other legal experts have criticized the court's decision to try him under anti-terrorist laws. His supporters say any attempt to equate the former president with the killers of Salmaan Taseer, Daniel Pearl, and thousands of other innocent citizens and soldiers, is unfair.

A person who laid the foundations of a conceptually good and globally practiced local government system, considerably enhanced women's representation in parliament, and allowed private electronic media, should not be treated this way, they say, even if there are concerns about the way he handled the Lal Masjid episode, the Balochistan problem, the Taliban and Al Qaeda issue, and his government's humiliation of judges. And a foreign policy endorsed by the international community cannot be declared a crime even if most Pakistanis disagree with it. 

The concerns about conflict of interest, especially the allegation that the judge was an electoral candidate of the conservative Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal in 2002, should be looked at in accordance with the fundamentals of justice and rule of law. 

The South African legend Nelson Mandela, despite enduring 35 years of solitary confinement, refused to send vengeance-filled vigilantes to fix all those who had firmly believed in and ruthlessly practiced apartheid, a system that had relegated the natives to sub-humans. Instead, both Mandela and the first chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Bishop Desmond Tutu predicated the commission on the fundamental principle that "to forgive is not just to be altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest." Mandela and Tutu had envisioned the TRC as a mechanism that would help deal with the evils of apartheid, and advance the cause of reconciliation.

n this context, the higher judiciary, which has otherwise become a beacon of hope in a disorderly house, also stands on trial. Will it dispense justice as independent, dispassionate arbiters of law, or let personal grief dictate its judgment? 

Do we have leaders who could match the greatness of Mandela and Tutu?

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk