Bismillah ir-Rahman Nir Raheem,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a privilege and honor to be here in remembrance of Asma Jahangir.
She was a friend to my mother, a mentor to me and an inspiration for all the believers of democracy in Pakistan.
Asma Jahangir is synonymous with democracy, rule of law and human rights. Her voice could be heard when many others fell silent.
She continued to feel the pain that others grew accustomed to.
And till the end, never stopped pushing back. Fighting the good fight.
From bonded labourers, to women in abusive marriages; from victims of religious persecution to the sanctity of the will of the people- no fight was too big, no case too small for Asma Jahangir.
Her absence is felt more acutely now than ever before as a “selected” government desperately seeks to undo democratic gains made by Pakistan. The media is under assault and is facing the unprecedented censorship. Human rights are endangered today and rule of law and due process have been discarded in favor of rhetorical populism. Theatrics have triumphed over substance.
But it occurs to me that though Asma is no longer amongst us. Her ideals and her voice can not be allowed to die. They must resonate through you, through me, through us all.
Asma Jahangir was a warrior for a democratic, progressive, inclusive, modern and pluralistic Pakistan. If she was present here, she would never have left this despotism go unchallenged; and neither shall we.
Today our democracy faces serious threats. Not only from unelected forces but also from “so-called” democrats. I believe it was the Honorable Chief Justice who said,
“We know as a matter of historical fact, that democracy has always been a highly endangered specie in Pakistan. It has often fallen to the ground under assaults launched by anti-democratic forces waving the banner of ‘basic democracy’ or ‘true democracy’. These assaults have in the past been made by military dictators. But it should never be forgotten that the forces of authoritarianism need not always be in uniform. Democracy more than anything else is a cast of mind, a respect for the opinions and decisions of plurality of ordinary citizens ….”
The supremacy of the parliament and the sanctity of the constitution are under relentless attack. We still await clarity on the blatant manipulation of the 2018 election and for the uneven playing field which resulted in the imposition of an incompetent government.
A government which is attempting to address grave challenges to the economy by “chandanomics”, ignoring entirely that their lack of policies and consistent U-turns have not only failed to inspire confidence, but have in fact put this nation on a speedy track to further economic instability.
It was the PPP which strengthened the Federation of Pakistan and it is the PPP which will defend and strive for a more vibrant and stronger federation. We, the people, who believe in the ideals of a federal, democratic Pakistan must come together and resist any nefarious designs to undermine this.
Let us not forget how the 18th Amendment sought to protect the Constitution and rule of law on the one hand, and strengthened the federation, on the other.
It has done away with the powers of the President to dissolve, at whim, the Parliament, the symbol of the collective will of the people.
It has conferred upon the provinces due rights over their resources for which they were agitating for the past 6 decades.
It has restored the balance in the distribution of fiscal resources between the federal government and the provinces by a more equitable NFC Award. Instead of making population as the sole criteria, backwardness of a province and other factors have also been given weightage.
I should therefore like to warn against any attempt to roll back the 18th Amendment or the NFC Award.
The PPP will stoutly and resolutely resist any such move. Let there be no doubt or mistake about it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Civility and democratic norms in politics have been replaced by hysteria and abuse.
This government has neither the will nor the capacity to deliver on the false promises made during its campaign.
The rule of law is the soul of a democratic system. The judiciary has the responsibility to inspire confidence that justice will be done, that everyone will be treated fairly and that fundamental rights will be upheld.
Sadly, in the past, our judiciary has failed to inspire this confidence.
Millions of people wait for their cases to be heard while the justice system appears focused on trivialities, rather than dispensing justice.
I am a victim and a witness to the inequalities of our justice system.
As a child, I remember accompanying my mother to visit my father in jail; my father was imprisoned for eleven and half years’ despite being innocent. My grandfather’s judicial murder remains a blot on the history of our judiciary. I still wait for justice for my martyred mother.
The PPP has faced trials, tribulations and victimization throughout its history, however, we have remained steadfast and, unlike others, we have never ransacked the Supreme Court.
The PPP has sacrificed lives and has borne the pain of confronting tyranny to build a just society and I being my mother’s son, will continue to do so, InshaAllah.
Although, this justice system has failed me like it has failed millions of Pakistanis, I will continue the struggle for an equitable, constitutional and fair justice system where the courts decision is based on the law and not politics and where trials are free and fair and not reduced to witch hunts. We must have a system that focuses on prosecution and not persecution.
I am heartened by the words of one of Pakistan’s most eminent jurists, who, in a note he penned, warns against, and I quote,
“A vehicle for judicial aggrandizement of power at the expense of the elected representatives of the people. On the conceptual plane, it is devoid of merit and amounts to little more than a vessel into which the Judges can pour whatever economic, political or social theory as may their fancy or whim at any give time…
Constitutions in free societies are made by the people, for themselves and through their chosen representatives…
It is for the chosen representatives and no one else to act in such matters. Why should that power not be exercisable by such representatives in their collective wisdom, and why should its exercise be at the mercy of unelected Judges? The decisions of elected representatives have been wrong and have occasionally brought us close to disaster. Is the record of the judiciary that much better? The elected representatives at least need to have their mandate renewed periodically. What of Judges, who in any polity are the least accountable branch and in Pakistan in particular are, in a quite literal sense, a closed brotherhood?…
The constitution does not end (it certainly did not begin) with the Judges, and the courts would do well to remember that. Every institution and each organ of the State has its own role to play. That realization and acceptance ensures that the constitutional balance is maintained. The Court should not do anything that unbalances the Constitution. It should never assume in its own favor that it is the ultimate arbiter in all constitutional matters.”
These insightful words by our Honorable Chief Justice Saquib Nisar, in his additional note on the petition on the 18th and 21st Constitutional Amendment case give me hope that sanity will prevail.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The legal fraternity has always been the first line of defense against the undemocratic forces be it against the autocratic rule of Zia-ul-Haq or the dictatorship of Musharraf. It is the bar that holds the judiciary accountable and is the first to point out deviation from the path of constitutionalism and rule of law. And Asma Jahangir led the bar with incredible courage and unimpeachable integrity to also hold the judiciary accountable.
Seldom before has the need for an accountable judiciary been felt as strongly as it is felt today.
Whether it is the appointment of judges or the division of powers between state institutions or the vast but un-restrained powers under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution, there are issues that need to be looked into and questions that need to be answered.
An accountable judiciary is not a political slogan nor is it a manifestation of politicians seeking to expand their own powers. It is for upholding the majesty of law and the dignity of courts.
History has taught mankind the wisdom, that the greater the power, the greater the need of restraint and greater the need for accountability.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The leaders of the bar must now pick up Asma’s mantle and resist again today, the erosion of rule of law, the undermining of democracy, and the shrinking of Human Rights, as she did in the past.
Today we are only democratic in name, the mindset, the tactics bear all the hallmarks of autocracy.
The legal community has a special responsibility to resist any attempts to undermine the spirit of the constitution.
The objective of the present government is to establish a fascist one-party dictatorship; where criticism is treated as a crime and where democratic opposition is threatened with intimidation. However, dear friends, no amount of victimization and coercion will weaken our resolve and our commitment to democracy.
When democracy and constitutionalism were under threat, Asmas’ voice was always the loudest. And now there is a deafening silence.
Asma Jahangir was guided by the belief in fundamental rights of life, liberty, due process and equal opportunities. As the son and political heir of SMBB, I too, hold these principles as my shining light and hope to live up to them.
The best tribute to Asma Jahangir is to follow in her footsteps and fight for constitutional supremacy, equality and democracy.
This is a debt that we owe to SMBB and to Asma Jahangir and InshaAllah we will succeed, lest we be left at the mercy of dangerous duffers.
Rest in Peace, Asma Jahangir