The ‘romance’ between the incumbent regime and the superior bars has been thrown into uncertainty, seeding questions about the future of the PML-N-led coalition that has weathered its political storms due to strong legal backing, thanks to Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar.
Mr Tarar, who is considered close to the Sharif family since the Panamagate case proceedings, has been the legal eagle on whose wings the PML-N traditionally used to get relief in the courts.
The scenario, many dread, has changed as the party is now seemingly weaker on the legal front.The ties between the two can be gauged from the fact the party returned the "favours" by giving him a seat in the Senate for his services to the party.
According to some, Mr Tarar tendered his resignation citing ‘anti-establishment slogans’ raised at the recent Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore. SCBA President Ahsan Bhoon revealed that Tarar was asked to clear the air about the episode through a press conference which he refused to do.
The president of the prestigious lawyers’ body admitted that this was one of the reasons the law minister decided to quit.Hours before he resigned, Tarar, as the law minister, supported Chief Justice Umar (CJP) Ata Bandial’s nominations of junior judges for elevation to the Supreme Court on the federal government instructions.
However, a lawyer close to Tarar revealed that he was not comfortable with the government's decision, therefore, he decided to tender his resignation.On the other hand, his rival lawyers within PML-N claim that he resigned due to pressure from “powerful circles” as they were upset at the anti-military slogans raised at the conference.
The law minister was also said to be under immense pressure for casting his vote in favour of some ‘junior judges’, along with CJP Umar Ata Bandial, who were being elevated to the Supreme Court.
Tarar is the leading member of the Independent Lawyers Group, whose representatives, especially SCBA President Ahsan Bhoon, have played an important role in changing the regime in earlier this year.
The SCBA president had moved a petition in the apex court for ensuring the process of the vote of no-confidence against ex-prime minister Imran Khan under Article 95 of the Constitution.
The body’s president also became a party in presidential reference seeking interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution.Moreover, when former NA deputy speaker Qasim Suri set quashed the resolution of no-confidence against Imran through his ruling, the SCBA president again requested the top court to take suo motu.Likewise, when the PML-N’s fate hanged in balance in the political heartland – Punjab – six presidents of the same Independent Lawyers Group took the rostrum to request the CJP to form a full court to examine deputy speaker Punjab Assembly Dost Mazari’s ruling.
The apparent backing got all the more pronounced when CJP Bandial on September 12 expressed wonder as to how the bar representatives could make such requests in a matter wherein they were not even a party.
Earlier, the Independent Lawyers Group, led by Tarar, had rescued the incumbent coalition parties when they were in opposition during the PTI government and went on to confront the mighty establishment’s role in matters concerning civil liberties.
In September 2020, amidst the perception of a fast-shrinking space for dissent and the right to express, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) — a mother institution regulating the affairs of the legal fraternity — constituted a seven-member Journalistic Defence Committee to protect the rights of journalists.The committee comprised members belonging to the Asma Group.T
arar remained at the helm of affairs and even nominated outspoken members such as Abid Saqi and Amjad Shah for the highest offices of lawyers’ bodies for taking an aggressive stance on human rights issues.Interestingly, when the regime changed, the Pakistan Bar Council dissolved its Journalists' Defence Committee after the cases against media workers declined.
The much-needed committee was disbanded even as complaints from the journalists regarding harassment by state agencies kept piling up. The representatives of the superior bars appeared to have no interest in this regard.
In view of the long list of services and legal battles that remedied PML-N’s flagging political fortunes, several members of the Independent Lawyers Group have expressed their disappointment with the ruling party’s leadership for not resisting the pressures from the establishment that wanted to squeeze out the resignation from the law minister.Some of them even questioned PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif’s “meek” attitude in the whole scenario, asking what made him decide against intervening in this matter."
I think those who forced Azam Tarar to tender resignation, might have been unaware about his worth in the prevailing situation,” a senior lawyer reckoned.
He said that the superior bars have a huge influence on the judiciary and their voice on civil liberties carries a great deal of weightage. “The courts are compelled to intervene the bars speak up.”
It is speculated that following Tarar’s resignation, PBC may question the establishment’s role in matters pertaining to human rights and harassment of journalists.However, the Independent Lawyers Group's reputation has been badly affected on account of its association with the present regime. Therefore, the group is facing a tough time in the upcoming SCBA annual election.
It is being witnessed that contrary to the long history of lawyers throwing their weight behind anti-establishment politics, the Independent Lawyers Group is silent on the matter of civil liberties during the present regime.
Meanwhile, the Hamid Khan-led Professional Lawyers Group is getting an advantage in the upcoming SCBA annual elections on account of Asma Group’s association with the present regime.
Opponents of Tarar within the PML-N accuse him of persuading Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for supporting CJP Bandial's nominations of junior judges regarding their elevation to the SC.
They also claim that more than 50 per cent of law officers are appointed on the recommendation of bar representatives as they are not PML-N lawyers.Similarly, they believe that the government led by PML-N should have supported the stance taken by Justice Qazi Faez Isa and the other two judges for long-term objectives.