Dawn Editorial August 23, 2019

PBC’s challenge

AN interesting situation is shaping up at the apex court. The lawyers’ community, judging by the actions of its apex statutory body, the Pakistan Bar Council, appears to have nailed its colours to the mast in the matter of the reference filed by the government before the Supreme Judicial Council against Justice Faez Isa. On Wednesday, the PBC filed a constitutional petition in the Supreme Court challenging President Alvi’s filing of the reference, which accuses the judge of failing to disclose foreign properties in the name of his wife and children in his wealth statement. This brings the number of such petitions to four: the first filed by the judge himself, the second by the Supreme Court Bar Association and the third by senior lawyer Abid Hassan Minto and human rights activist I.A. Rehman. The unrest among the lawyers over the reference against Justice Isa, considered an independent-minded judge who has handed down certain ‘unpopular’ verdicts, is reminiscent of the charged atmosphere preceding the lawyers’ movement in 2007. Among the concerns the PBC petition raises is what it describes as a perception among the legal fraternity that the SJC — a constitutional judicial body mandated to rule on allegations of misconduct — is not immune to external influence. The petition specifically mentions Justice Isa’s Faizabad case judgement as being relevant to the actions by the executive which it says has displayed “animus and ill-will” towards the judge.
News of the reference against Justice Isa, as well as Justice Karim Khan Agha on similar grounds, came to light in late May through a media leak — the first of several in the matter — and drew strong reactions from senior lawyers and politicians.Additional attorney general Zahid F. Ebrahim tendered his resignation, contending the move was not about accountability of judges but “a reckless attempt to tarnish the reputation of independent individuals and browbeat the judiciary”. Justice Isa then wrote to Mr Alvi requesting a copy of the reference if the government had indeed taken such a step. Intriguingly, given the delicate nature of the issues involved, this communiqué as well as a subsequent letter from the judge addressed to Mr Alvi in which he refuted the allegations against him, were both made known to the media by unknown sources. That prompted yet another misconduct reference, a private one this time, being filed against Justice Isa for having written to the president. The reference was quashed by the SJC on Monday.
In its petition, the PBC has urged the SJC to amend its procedures to ensure greater transparency, and allay concerns about its independence. The applications filed with the petitions have also asked the Supreme Court to issue interim orders and stay SJC proceedings. One has no doubt the Supreme Court will act in a manner that is above reproach and, in the interest of justice, first dispose of the multiple petitions against the reference.


Banning medicine

AGAINST the backdrop of deteriorating Pakistan-India relations and talk of banning Indian imports, a proposal to curb the purchase of medicine and raw material from across the border was brought up in a parliamentary committee on Tuesday. Senator Rehman Malik said that there was evidence that Indian pharmaceutical companies were tampering with the expiry dates of medicines. This is a serious charge, and the senator should provide whatever information he has on this count, so that his allegation is not viewed as one emanating from political compulsions. Mr Malik brought up his reservations in the Senate last month, after the federal health ministry announced that Pakistan imported medicine and vaccine worth Rs136, 99, 87,000 from India between January and May 2019. However, considering our dependence on pharma ingredients from abroad, an abrupt, blanket ban on lifesaving medicines and vaccines is not advisable. Further, a reactionary ban will increase the number of smuggled and spurious goods. There are around 900 registered pharmaceuticals in the country. Most depend on raw material from India and China that are primary destinations for the global drug industry in terms of access to pharma ingredients and raw material. If either country forms a monopoly, the prices will rise. Secondly, when it comes to finished dosage from drug products, the vast majority are already manufactured locally. It was only in the last couple of years that some companies received special permits to import FDFs that were already being produced in the country, such as antiviral tablets. However, Pakistan does not produce cancer treatment products along with a host of lifesaving vaccines. Thus it is dependent on India for quality medicine at cost-effective prices, as European manufactured pharmaceuticals are out of the range of the average consumer.
Pakistan continues to battle one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the world, for which vaccines are provided from India. Other vital vaccines imported from our neighbours include anti-venom and anti-rabies vaccination. If Pakistani politicians demand that these vaccines be produced locally and meet the required international quality standards, then they must also provide incentives for local industries and a competitive market — something previous governments have failed to do — along with ending corruption, easing manufacturing costs, fixing the energy crisis, encouraging scientific and technological innovation, and ending violence and crime, particularly in the cities. Until then, public health will never be considered a priority.


Justice for Qandeel

NEWS that the parents of Qandeel Baloch filed an affidavit in a Multan trial court forgiving their sons, co-accused in her murder, and requesting that the case against them be dismissed did not surprise many observers. Yet it still comes as a relief that the court rejected the request. It is precisely due to the nature of ‘honour’ crimes — typically perpetrated by the victims’ own family members — and their interactions with punishment waivers and compoundability provisions that Pakistan’s laws were amended to seek to prevent a crime against the state being reduced to a ‘family matter’. In fact, it was the social media celebrity’s high-profile murder that provided the momentum for the Anti-Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act to finally be passed in October 2016, a few months after her death. Three years on, the case must be brought to its logical conclusion. Unlike most cases of ‘honour’ killings, many of which go unreported, the circumstances surrounding Qandeel’s death were well documented and the intent behind her murder clear. Justice must be done, and be seen to be done.
But the issue goes far beyond this one case. At stake is the question of whether a woman’s life is conditional on her conforming to the moral strictures or conventional sensibilities of others, or inviolable as articulated under Article 9 of the Constitution. Pakistan needs justice for Qandeel, and for the many more women whose lives are forever altered or cut short by crimes covered up by the unbearably toxic burden of chadar aur chardiwari. Although the introduction of progressive laws in recent years is a positive step, they are still far from perfect, not to mention the fact that enacting legislation while ignoring issues within the mechanisms through which they are to be implemented betrays a lack of seriousness. Unalloyed commitment to upholding women’s fundamental rights must permeate the entire edifice of the criminal justice system — and at every stage, from reporting to investigation to court procedure.

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