PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday criticized former chief justices of Pakistan, saying it was not the superior judiciary’s job to construct dams or busy itself with demolishing buildings.
Addressing an event organized by the Lahore High Court Bar Association, Bilawal said the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) should be deciding constitutional issues instead of “samosa or sugar prices”. He said that instead of deciding issues about the fundamentals of legal framework or “confronting a full-blown assault on democracy that has resulted in this selected regime, some judges took it upon themselves to busy themselves, the courts and the legal community on deciding which building should be demolished and which should stay”.
The PPP chief’s comments were an apparent reference to former CJPs Mian Saqib Nisar and Gulzar Ahmed.
Justice Nisar was one of the biggest proponents for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams and had taken the initiative of collecting donations for these by launching a fund in July 2018. Justice Gulzar, meanwhile, decided several high-profile cases last year about the demolition of buildings in Karachi and ordered Nasla Tower and Tejori Heights to be torn down.
Bilawal said he himself was “a witness and victim of our justice system”, narrating his trips to the courts as a child and to prison to visit his father.
“The responsibility to protect the rule of law falls on us — all politicians, lawyers and judges. Sadly, history shows that we have failed to discharge our responsibilities and more often than not, the scales of justice often side with the oppressors.”
The PPP chairman said expectations from the lawyers’ movement of 2007 were not met, adding that the superior judiciary should be an avenue for protection of the weak and poor.
Despite this, he said, “we have not lost faith in the law as an ideal”, adding that he had the utmost respect for the legal community and judges, adding that no modern state could function in the absence of a fair legal system.
Appealing to the legal community, Bilawal said: “The fate of the judiciary and democracy is in your hands.”
He added there were many judges who had made their mark on history not only in Pakistan and the region but across the world.
With “extremist regimes” on both borders, Bilawal said Pakistan was standing at a fork in the road and had the opportunity to either “shine as a beacon of light, democracy and modernity” or take the wrong track and make a mockery of its institutions.
“The lawyers of Pakistan have made every single dictator shake. They fear your black coats. “There is no power [or] authoritarianism that can withstand the might of a united legal fraternity,” the PPP chairman said. He called on the legal community to support the PPP in its stand against the government, referring to his party’s planned anti-government long march to Islamabad on February 27.
Bilawal also lashed out at the incumbent government’s accountability process, saying it was a “cruel joke” being played on the people. He said “undoubtedly Pakistan needs a system of accountability” which was fair and non-discriminatory instead of the present “witch hunt and persecution” of opponents and those who exposed the government’s failings.
The PPP chairman said it was “clear” that Pakistan was transitioning from democracy towards dictatorship and authoritarianism under the current regime.