Historical Revisionism

Feb 14th, 2012 | By | Category: Jang, The News

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”. History will not be so kind to another Prime Minister, not if Ansar Abbasi (Jang Group) writes it. In fact, Ansar Abbasi has decided that rather than way for events to actually play out, he’s going to to go ahead and write history now. Of course, that’s not history at all – it’s just predictions coloured by wishful thinking.

On the front page of The News and Daily Jang on Monday, Ansar Abbasi writes that “Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani would make history today (Monday), not as a hero but as a villain”.

Now, if your first reaction to this is, “Wait…that’s not reporting facts, that’s just Ansar Abbasi’s opinion”, then congratulations – you are correct. But Jang Group publishing opinions instead of news is an old story. So let’s take a look at exactly what leads Abbasi to his opinion and see if he is at least giving readers all the facts so that they can make an informed decision about whether Abbasi’s harsh judgment is warranted.

According to Ansar Abbasi, “The Supreme Court had given him all possible opportunities to uphold rule of law by implementing the apex court’s order in the NRO case but Gilani has opted to be remembered as a loyal to his soiled party leadership”. This is certainly one interpretation of events. But there is interpretation that Ansar Abbasi conveniently ignores – one actually based in the constitution.

The Prime Minister has said continually that he has not written a letter requesting the Swiss authorities to open corruption cases against the president because he has been advised that to do so would be in violation of Article 248.

It should be noted that PM Gilani is not trained as a lawyer – his educational background is as a journalist. But being a lawyer is not a requirement for being Prime Minister. Actually, there is the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs which tenders advice to all the Federal Government on legal and constitutional questions.

In this case, the Prime Minister was advised by the Ministry of Law that writing the letter would be a violation of Article 248 of the Constitution, which says that, “No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President or a Governor in any court during his term of office”. This is advice that his attorney, Aitzaz Ahsan, has confirmed and argued before the Court.

Essentially, the Supreme Court is ordering the PM to act against the advice of the Ministry of Law under threat of contempt – something legal experts have described as a ‘contempt trap’

If one were to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused in the instance of Gilani’s contempt proceedings, one could see that Gilani has fallen victim to a type of contempt trap. The court has continued to demand that Gilani write a letter to Swiss authorities, asking for Pakistan to be reinstated as a party to the money laundering case against President Zardari. However, under Article 248 of the Constitution, Zardari enjoys immunity from all prosecutions while he is sitting as President of Pakistan.

During the recent hearings, Aitzaz Ahsan went so far as to say that the Swiss authorities had been contacted by government and they have chosen not to pursue a case against Zardari, respecting his immunity under the Pakistani constitution. The court was perhaps frustrated to hear this information so late in the game, after so many requests from the Prime Minister to explain his position and to show that his government took the court’s orders seriously.

Despite the fact that the court’s order to reopen the Swiss cases is no longer likely or possible, they are continuing in their contempt hearings against the Prime Minister. This is remarkable because the court is essentially asking the Prime Minister to violate Article 248, which the Prime Minster cannot do as a sworn member of Parliament, and thus invoking his contempt of the court proceedings.

Others have noted that Article 248 does not only provide immunity to the President, but provides qualified immunity to the Prime Minister.

The President, a Governor, the Prime Minister, a Federal Minister, a Minister of State, the Chief Minister and a Provincial Minister shall not he answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performance of functions of their respective offices or for any act done or purported to be done in the exercise of those powers and performance of those functions

Despite these assessments, the Prime Minister has not questioned the Supreme Court’s right to hear the case nor attempted to create a political issue out of the case. Rather, he has appeared before the Supreme Court not once but twice – ironically, making history as the first Prime Minister to show such respect to the judiciary where past Prime Ministers have chosen to storm the Supreme Court.

Nor did the Prime Minister request the president to remove the justices as was done by Gen. Mushararaf. Actually, Gilani’s first act as Prime Minister was to release from house arrest those judges who had been detained by Gen. Musharraf.

Unfortunately, none of these historical facts appears in Ansar Abbasi’s front page column. Instead, he quickly moves away from the facts of the case at hand and resorts to repeating claims like, “corruption of Rs8,500 billion has been recorded during these four years as per the Transparency International’s assessment”. We have searched the TI website and have been unable to find any such assessment. Perhaps Ansar Abbasi is referring to his previous articles that have already been discredited.

In the past, history was often written by the victors. With the spread of the printing press, competing histories became written by different sides. With the advent of the Internet, this has become even more the case. Histories can be found that are written from all sides and perspectives – winners, losers, and bitter old men. Certainly Ansar Abbasi will have his own view of history, and that is his right. But facts are facts, and we hope that in the future, Jang Group will seek to include more facts and less biased opinion.

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