Asma Jehangir’s election

The election of the veteran human rights activist Asma Jehangir as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association is no big surprise. Although, she was potentially the strongest of the three in the race for the apex bar’s top electoral office, it was an intensely hard-fought contest in which Ahmad Owais, her principal rival, nevertheless lost to her by a very small margin.That Asma Jehangir happens to be the first woman to win the presidency of the Supreme Court Bar, makes the present election all the more critical. However, she is not a newcomer to the thorny world of lawyers’ politics. For decades she has been in the thick of legal battles; in fact, earning a unique distinction in the country’s legal history as party to the famous Asma Gilani case. But even tougher challenges await her as the chief of the apex bar.In the coming weeks and months, the Supreme Court is expected to deliver verdicts in cases involving certain high-profile figures including the president of Pakistan. Will the newly elected SCBA head be able to keep the balance and desist making the verdicts controversial, that is going to be Asma Jehangir’s biggest challenge.That Asma Jehangir was vilified as the government’s candidate and allegations were made to suggest that Babar Awan ‘bankrolled’ her campaign, is nothing new in such pre-polls propaganda. The fact that Owais Ahmed accepted the outcome of polling with an ‘open heart’ should suffice to prove that the post-polls SCBA would act in complete unanimity and togetherness. At stake is the future of the lawyers’ struggle to obtain the right conditions for the rule of law in Pakistan. Yes, she is politicised, but lawyers always are.

Most of our Founding Fathers were lawyers by profession, and some of them even headed political parties. And so were many who came after, including Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. However, Asma Jehangir is not a member of any political party and, believably, her vote bank too was not party-based. That she fared relatively better in the smaller provinces is something to do with her image as a human rights activist than as a political candidate. Still it would be in order for her that she dispels the impression of being a party candidate.Even before she appeared on the horizon as a candidate for presidency of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jehangir had taken a critical stand on the apex court’s verdict which had sent packing the whole lot of PCO judges. But then it was part of the debate as the verdict was in the public domain. Her maiden statement after her election – “We will not allow the bar to become representative of judges or any political party” – may be interpreted by some as an assertion of her earlier stance, but we hope that won’t be the case.

No one should doubt her integrity as a fiercely independent person who would never compromise on her commitment to obtain pristine conditions for the rule of law in the country. May be some would take her pledge to end the so-called conflict between the institutions as her tilt against the superior judiciary. But that would be a grossly mistaken position, for as a holder of the highest elected office of the bar, she would like the bar and bench to work together in real earnestness to help the courts deliver justice at the people’s doorsteps at the earliest and the cheapest.However, there is a problem area for Asma Jehangir to deal with, and that’s the streak of militancy creeping into the lawyers’ attitude towards other sections of civil society. Accepted that lawyers as the most politicised segment of society cannot remain indifferent to injustices and thereby come to possess an easy-to-revolt mindset. But of late, that tendency is seen to have been overplayed, throwing up, for all to see, ugly scenes of lawyers grappling with media persons and police and storming the courtrooms.It’s disconcerting to know that lawyers could dictate who should be the judge to hear their cases. Asma Jehangir has the right potential – she is forthright, often unforgiving – to infuse some kind of discipline and gentlemanliness among her class. Two years ago this black-coat, black-tie force produced a miracle by reviving the independent judiciary; now it should ensure that the same judiciary has its decisions implemented – under the leadership of Asma Jehangir – Brecorder