Pakistan Reader# 152, 14 February 2021
Three issues during this week in Pakistan deserve a discussion: the TLP’s anger against France, lawyers’ violence in Islamabad High Court and another controversy relating to Justice Isa.
The government caves into TLP’ demands against France
The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, during this week, brought the government to its knees once again, when it called off its protest. Initially, the TLP had scheduled protests on 16 February against three specific demands relating to France. These three demands include: Pakistan expels the Ambassador of France, boycott all French products and will not appoint an ambassador to France.
Why is the TLP angry over France? It all started in November last year with Charlie Hebdo protests, killing of Samuel Paty, social resistance in France, “I’m Paty” gatherings and the statement by the French President Emmanuel Macron. The TLP staged a street protest in November 2020, occupied the main artery and threatened to blockade Islamabad.
The PTI government caved in November 2020. It agreed to the above three demands in November 2020 and also agreed to present the same within three months in the Parliament for its approval. The TLP’s latest ultimatum is against the failure of the PTI to pass the same in the Parliament; hence decided to stage another protest on 16 February 2021.
The PTI government caved again this week. The two sides (PTI and the TLP) during this week signed another agreement now. According to a news report in the Express Tribune, “Negotiations have been going on between the Government of Pakistan and TLP on this problem for a month during which the government has reaffirmed its resolve. Terms of the [previous] agreement will be presented in parliament by April 20, 2021, and decisions will be taken with the approval of the parliament.” From the government side, the agreement was signed by the Minister for Religious Affairs and Minister for Interior.
The rise of TLP has many reasons. One of them is the failure of the government to stand up and ensure the writ of the State. This will only strengthen the TLP enabling them to demand more.
One can understand the TLP’s demands against France. But why is the PTI government caving in? Perhaps, there is too much on the PTI’s plate? Or, perhaps, the PTI wants the TLP to grow in Punjab because it would upset the PML-N’s political calculations?
Lawyers become lawless in Islamabad. Worse, the bar supports them
On Monday, a group of lawyers stormed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ransacked the premise and held Chief Justice of the IHC – Justice Athar Minallah as a hostage. According to Dawn, “the violent lawyers laid siege to the courtroom and the chamber of IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, virtually keeping him hostage for about three hours. They barged into the offices of the secretary to the IHC chief justice and his auxiliary staff, broke windows and even doors of the Chief Justice Block.”
What made the lawyers pursue such a course of action, that would place any civilised person hand his/her head in shame, leave alone the people of black robes? It is all about illegal chambers that the lawyers have built. Earlier Justice Minallah looked into a Suo Motu case relating to a group of lawyers encroaching a football ground in 2013 to build their chambers. When the Capital Development Authority attempted to clear the encroachment, all hell broke; lawyers responded negatively and ended up ransacking the Islamabad High Court.
This is not the first time that the lawyers have taken the law into their own hands. During the last decade, there have been several incidents, in which they turned violent. The last incident was in December 2019, when the lawyers stormed a cardiology hospital; multiple videos available online would underline the horror of what they did – both in the hospital and on the streets vis-à-vis the police.
Why is this getting repeated? The learned courts and the legal fraternity should do something. Not only in Pakistan, but in the rest of South Asia as well, for a common man, the judiciary is the last refuge. It is vital, that this institution protects its sanctity. Unfortunately in Pakistan, the bar council in Punjab and the bar association threw their support behind the lawyers, and asked for rebuilding the chambers that were demolished.
The trust in the judiciary should remain sacrosanct. Incidents such as these will question it.
A version of the above was first published as an editorial in PR.