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All eyes on the apex court

Next week among matters of import, the Supreme Court will take up a review petition of Imdad Ali, a man convicted of murder who has been awaiting his fate on death row for 14 years. His death sentence has been upheld by the appeal courts including the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

At the centre of Imdad Ali’s case is the fact he is suffering from schizophrenia, an illness that the various courts have ruled is treatable in this case and, therefore, the patient cannot take a diminished responsibility plea. In other words, he is culpable for his crime.

I have talked to more than one psychiatrist who say the treatment can alleviate some of the symptoms but not all. In fact, the latest Harvard research published in January this year by Prof Steven McCarroll and his colleagues furnished evidence of a genetic link to the development of schizophrenia. Dr McCarroll told the NPR network that the breakthrough’s greatest benefit would lead towards more targeted treatment of the disease as currently only ‘two or three’ symptoms can be addressed through available treatment.

Some observers are right to ask if the apex court is not overstretching itself but in this environment many eyes are turned to it for relief. The researchers reached their finding after a genetic analysis of nearly 65,000 people. The study represented the first time that the origin of this psychiatric disease has been causally linked to specific gene variants and a biological process, according to a Harvard news release.

Of course any of the facts mentioned don’t make me a credible medical expert. In fact, any lay person can gain access to this information, using the most rudimentary of internet search tools. Equally, I am not a lawyer so I can’t say what the parameters of a ‘review’ petition are and whether Imdad Ali’s lawyers have a case at all here.

Financial constraints meant that the schizophrenia patient is said to have had no or very poor legal representation initially. One hopes, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, that whatever decision the apex court takes serves the cause of justice the best.

Next week will also see the Panama Papers hearing in the apex court. The court has made clear that the Nov 15 hearing is the final opportunity for all parties to submit their written responses, supporting documents, and that no further submissions will be entertained.

Against the backdrop of disquiet among a part of the lawyers’ community over the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to take up this ‘political’ issue, it isn’t clear how long the honourable justices of the bench will take to decide whether they want to appoint a commission for a deeper probe or if they have sufficient evidence before them to hear and decide the matter themselves.

In established democracies, where institutions are firmly embedded in the system and are autonomous, such issues would have been dealt with by agencies charged with investigating financial irregularities/crime to ascertain whether the prime minister and/or his family have a case to answer.

However, here the lack of autonomy and the consequent state of specific investigating departments/agencies and the lack of flexibility among elected public representatives to reach accommodation with each other would mean the dispute ends up on the streets.

One can be critical of the apex court on grounds of intervening in a political dispute but the truth is that all other avenues of conflict resolution were blocked by the government itself and a section of the opposition was more than eager to upturn the whole applecart.

Although the government was able to successfully strongarm its way with the protesters and put a lid on their ambitions, long periods of upheaval on the streets always raises the spectre of military intervention. It was at this stage that the court intervened. Some observers are right to ask if the honourable apex court is not overstretching itself but political breakdowns or collapse of governance create an environment where many eyes are turned to the Supreme Court for some relief.

This brings me to last Thursday’s proceedings of the one-man judicial commission headed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa into the Quetta lawyers’ carnage. Of all the current justices, he is the only one I have had the privilege of having personally met on a few occasions. And allow me to say his commitment to the law, the Constitution and justice is total and that he is an upright man. His commission’s long sitting in the Balochistan capital was, unfortunately, not widely reported in the media and where the proceedings did receive media mention it was barely tantamount to caressing the surface and not detailed enough.

At least not detailed enough to my satisfaction and let me tell you why. Justice Faez Isa teases out issues with immense resilience and it isn’t easy for anyone appearing before him to play a loose ball and get away with it.

The deposition of the chief secretary of Balochistan before him on Thursday (which was continuing) as a result of My Lord’s questions was nothing less than a detailed diagnosis of what ails the province so critically. And this province is supposed to be the centrepiece of the critical CPEC.

Of course, when he concludes his inquiry, his report would be a compelling read as it will, I am sure, have detailed analyses of the issues and possible solutions. But, in the meantime, may I ask the commission registrar to make available the depositions wherever possible.

These too will help show the way, if anyone is actually interested, to better governance and much improved management of the law-and-order challenges. For now, it seems, all our hopes are pinned on the apex court. The way forward in Balochistan is no exception.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Abbas Nasir, "All eyes on the apex court," Dawn. 2016-11-12.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Harvard research , NPR network , Genetic analysis , Psychiatric disease , Medical expert , Schizophrenia patient , Panama Papers , Lawyers’ community , Financial irregularities , Financial crime , Conflict resolution , Judicial Commission , Supreme court , Imdad Ali , Prof Steven McCarroll , Justice Faez Isa , CPEC