One system, two systems – Raoof Hasan


True freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.” — Jonathan Sacks

It took me quite a while to understand the enormity of a statement attributed to the Lahore High Court (LHC). When the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor informed the court that no warrant of arrest for Maryam Nawaz had been issued thus far, the court disposed of her petition for grant of pre-arrest bail, but ordered NAB to give the petitioner 10 days before arresting her, thus enabling her to move her plea for relief.

Maryam is a convicted individual who was granted bail to look after her ailing father, who at the time was in a hospital in Lahore. He has since escaped the country through the grant of a two-month bail on provision of a fake illness certificate and an affidavit signed by Shahbaz Sharif. The government’s demand that they deposit the amount of the fine already imposed on Nawaz Sharif, as a pre-condition to granting him bail, was rejected by the court. Though he has since been declared a proclaimed offender and continues to live among the luxury of his illicit billions, the bail granted to Maryam has not been cancelled. She roams the length and breadth of the country spewing venom upon everyone and every institution that refuses to kowtow to her demands.

Justice requires that, like other citizens of the country, not only should she face all pending cases against her, the bail granted to her specifically for looking after her then ailing father should also be cancelled. But that is not how the court looks at it. Instead, it has bound NAB not to arrest her without first allowing her 10 days to seek a fresh pre-arrest bail. That means that as a convicted individual, she not only stays free, she is also provided pre-arrest bail relief in cases where she may be needed for investigation.

Will it, therefore, be appropriate to assume that her bail, under the given circumstances, guarantees her freedom to perpetuity irrespective of the cases pending against her, or the requirements of justice and equity? It follows from there that she is a special person deserving preferential treatment. It is absolutely a different matter that this special treatment may not be available to other members of society except the privileged beneficiary elite of the stature of Maryam Nawaz who ascended the mantle of leadership not on account of any service rendered to the country, but because of a decadent and patently non-democratic hierarchical structure prevalent within political parties.

While there may be other factors in our judicial system not quite in sync with fulfilling the sacred cause of justice, nothing would compare with restraining NAB from arresting an alleged criminal without first giving her time to secure a pre-arrest bail. Will this provision also apply to those who are not as privileged as Maryam, the likes of Rehmat Bibis and Karmoo Dittas of this country? Will they also be given time to secure their pre-arrest bail to escape incarceration?

Pakistan’s judicial history is replete with acts which have been distasteful for the institution and the country both. Who can forget that, not long ago, judgments were dictated by politicians to sitting judges, ala Justice Qayyum, on the phone who would comply as ordered? Who can forget that other person ascending the plane on the way to Quetta carrying a briefcase, full of booty, to be distributed in exchange for favours sought which ultimately led to the assault on the Supreme Court by the same Maryam Nawaz’s political party? Who can forget the coinage of the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to serve the cause of dictators? Who can forget the judge who, ironically, also led a movement for the independence of the judiciary, granting three clear years to a despot to alter the constitution with a mere stroke of his pen?

Ostensibly, we have come far from those times of despotism. Yet, why is there a lingering feeling that though the judiciary may claim to be free, it is not? Why is there a lingering feeling that the judiciary is reluctant to walk free of such constraints and begin issuing orders promoting the cause of justice among all people: rich or poor, black or fair, Muslim or belonging to the minority communities? Why is there a lingering feeling that there is one law in this country for Maryam Nawaz and her tribe of looters and another for non-entities like Rehmat Bibis and Karmoo Dittas? Why is there a lingering feeling that the beneficiary elite and the wretched of this land constitute two different worlds for the judiciary, deserving different treatments?

They say the rich have the money to buy justice, but the poor spend a lifetime waiting for it only to leave it behind for their next generation to handle. It is an unending and humiliating quest for something that is guaranteed by the constitution as their inalienable right. Justice remains an unattainable commodity, except for those who are loaded with illicit loot.

Let us not construct this beneficiary-elite-driven superstructure of the judiciary. Let us not dash the hopes of those expectant hearts which don’t have pockets full of pelf. Getting justice is as much a right of Maryam Nawaz as it is of Rehmat Bibi and Karmoo Ditta. Let us nullify the perception of there being two justice systems in the country, and ensure that there is only one and it remains accessible to all without the bar of money, cast, colour, creed or faith.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute.