Asma Jahangir, the doyenne of the human rights movement in Pakistan and a prominent Supreme Court lawyer, has been elected the first woman president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. It is an apex body which spearheaded the lawyers' movement nationwide to ensure the restoration of the judges ousted by former President Pervez Musharraf.
The SCBA election result was significant because the legal fraternity chose to elect a vocal critic of the judiciary. These same legal luminaries had stood behind Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry like a rock to ensure his return to his post just 18 months ago.
Lawyers, who once identified themselves with Chief Justice Chaudhry, have distanced themselves alleging that the judiciary's only purpose seemed to be confrontation with the government. It was falling short on administering justice at the grassroots, as promised during the lawyers' movement, they believe. Leading lawyers like Ali Ahmad Kurd have openly criticised the judiciary as a bunch of "faroons" (bullies).
Jahangir has been urging "caution" to the Supreme Court in cases like the judicial review of a Constitutional amendment and the reopening of graft charges against President Asif Ali Zardari. "The SC bar had became a mouthpiece of the Supreme Court, becoming a party in the ongoing battle between the executive and the government," said Nijam Sethi, a senior political analyst. "Asma Jahangir will now reverse this trend without taking sides with anybody," he added.
Zardari was the first among prominent personalities to greet Jahangir. Her election is being described by legal circles as a big relief for the government. Law Minister Babar Awan is believed to have played a pivotal role in her victory. Jahangir was not the favourite candidate in the initial phase of the campaign. Her proximity to the government was an initial handicap. Awan pulled all the right strings in a most subtle manner. Three former SCBA presidents and prominent names within the lawyers' movement, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Munir A. Malik and Justice (Retd) Tariq Mehmood, backed Jahangir.
What started as a three-way contest became a tough battle between Jahangir and runner-up Ahmed Awais. Jahangir secured 835 votes from the eight polling stations of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Abbottabad, Multan, Peshawar, Bahawalpur, Karachi and Quetta. Awais got 796 votes. The third contestant, Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry, got 128 votes. Only lawyers affiliated with the Supreme Court were eligible to vote in this election. In her post election press conference Jahangir said her first priority would be the protection of fundamental rights. She said that she would not become anybody's voice, neither the judges' nor the government's. Jahangir first won fame back in the 1970s, when she successfully challenged the military dictatorships of General Yahya Khan and General Zia-ul-Haq.