No end in sight

The ongoing NRO saga continues unabated and the tension is now becoming so thick one could cut it with a knife. On Monday, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC), which included Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, dismissed a plea from the government seeking more time to plead the NRO review petition owing to the change of counsel of the federal government. This has happened because Barrister Kamal Azfar, the counsel for the federation, has been appointed as an adviser to the prime minister. The fact that Mr Azfar has been appointed in apparent haste does not necessarily mean that legal proceedings or ethics have been compromised. Any client, whether the government or otherwise, possesses the inherent right to choose the counsel or legal representation of their choice at any stage of legal proceedings. So, on strict merit, the government’s plea for some extra time due to a change in representation is not invalid, as any new counsel will require some time to acquaint himself with the details of the case. This is usual legal procedure and should not be portrayed as something out of the ordinary.

However, it must be said that the government’s ability to land itself into sticky situations is by now becoming legendary. The government’s sense of timing deserves particular mention here. By officially notifying Mr Azfar’s appointment as adviser to the PM on Sunday, a holiday, and to then ask the courts for further time due to lack of counsel less than 48 hours before the court proceedings on October 13, the government has, unsurprisingly, rattled the court’s patience. Mr Azfar was on leave from September 22 to October 10, and as such the Attorney General (AG) Maulvi Anwarul Haq should have informed the SC beforehand of the fact that counsel would not be ready for the October 13 date. The SC’s irritation at the government can therefore be understood. However, even if inconvenient and possibly even a delaying tactic, the government does have the prerogative to change counsel. Today — October 13 — once the court convenes and the government once again pleads for some extra time due to a lack of preparedness in the absence of a new counsel, it remains to be seen how the hearings will proceed. Even the AG may be in a position to say that he is not ready, as he is not representing the government in this case. It certainly looks like the SC will be in a dilemma despite its irritation at what it terms the government making a “joke” out of the superior courts.

Although it is not in the interest of the state to ascribe blame to any one institution, it must be said that a clear clash of institutions seems to be in the offing despite Prime Minister Gilani’s remarks to the contrary. The executive maintains that the judiciary is intruding too often into its domain and the judiciary (CJ) says it is not indulging in ‘judicial activism’ but ‘judicial constitutionalism’. With two such opposed views, only time will tell how this apparent showdown will play out.

It is extremely unfortunate that the two major state institutions are on the verge of clashing at this critical juncture. With the huge problems that the country is being crushed under in the form of financial and real deluges, speculation about anti-democratic forces at work to topple the existing set-up and rapid deterioration in social development, such a collision, if it comes to pass, will cost the country dearly – Dailytimes