Abdul Latif Afridi’s interview

Interview of Abdul Latif Afridi : seeking an exploitation-free world

By Tahir Ali

(The News, March 2009)

Abdul Latif Afridi was born in 1943 in Teerah Khyber Agency- an area that, according to him, still lacks basic amenities. The name of his father was Haji Hikmat Shah. Latif received his primary education in Peshawar. He did his MA from Peshawar University in 1966. Two years later, he got LLB degree from there. He started legal practice in 1969 that continues till now. He claims to have fought thousands of cases free of cost for labourers, human rights activists and the poor.

Latif joined politics in 1963. He was rusticated from university for his support to Miss Fatima Jinnah in 1964. But it was in 1979 that he joined the Pakistan National Party of Ghous Bux Bezinjo and became its provincial president. PNP was merged in Awami National Party in July 1986 and Latif became its first provincial president. In 1997, he was elected as MNA from NA-33. Later, he left ANP, joined the National Awami Party of Ajmal Khatak but in 2005 he rejoined ANP.

At present he is the president of Peshawar high court bar association, of ANP’s lawyers’ wing and the vice president of ANP ‘Pukhtoonkhwa’. He has been elected president of PHCBA four times. He has been in the forefront of lawyers’ movement that culminated in the restoration of deposed judges on March 16 – the happiest day of his life. He is all praise for Afzal Khan Lala of Swat for his courage to stand against the extremists there.

He says he is for a world free of exploitation and cruelty and one that has peace, freedom, tolerance, happiness and equality in it.

The News on Sunday interviewed him recently. Excerpts follow.

The News on Sunday: The lawyers’ community waged a successful campaign for restoration of deposed judges. How do you analyse the movement and its implications?

Abdul Latif Afridi: It is indeed a defining moment in Pakistan’s history. The question of reinstatement of the deposed judiciary was a major irritant for the system. With this crisis now resolved amicably- thanks to an unyielding struggle by the legal fraternity backed by the entire civil society groups and some parties, the country is now back on track. We feel relaxed and proud. This restoration has laid down the foundations of independent judiciary. An independent judiciary is only possible if the executive doesn’t interfere with the system; unless people and rulers respects the rights of others; unless rulers obey the law; there is rule of law; unless the judges have security of office and are not left at the mercy of whims of rulers; and of course there are independent minded judges who are not considered the ‘friends’ of rulers.

Pakistan’s image as a vibrant democratic polity had greatly suffered as result of the en masse deposition of judges by. Luckily, the March 16 notification has established that right is might, not vice versa.  The movement was a heartening development; it established that the Pakistani nation also can stand for human liberties and justice; this movement has washed away the negative image of Pakistan. It was a secular movement run by secular leaders for secular ideals. Most of the religious leaders- Maulana Fazlur Rehman for example- never joined it, opposed it rather. In my view he and other of his kind cannot be accepted as genuine and democratic political leaders.

I think that the restoration would go a long way in strengthening democracy, freedom, and judiciary.

TNS: Should the post November 3 judiciary go?

ALA: We should forget about the past. All the judges, before or after November 3, 2007 should be retained. There is room for all of them. Whether they have taken oath or not under the PCO, all the judges should be accommodated. We should look towards the future. We have to bury this hatchet. We should plan for the times ahead of us. We can hardly afford any new tension, troubles and controversies.

TNS: Would it solve the problems faced by the commoners in administration of justice? What else do you suggest for the purpose?

ALA: Though it is a happy news for all of us, but we should remember that only restoration of judges will not suffice to make Pakistan a democratic, prosperous and human friendly society. Much needs to be done. The legal fraternity should offer suggestions how to improve upon the legal and political system. They should suggest as to how justice can be made easily, quickly and cheaply available. We will also have to eradicate the social, economic, political, educational and regional disparities and deprivations. A judicial system that caters to the needs of the diverse and complex modern conditions will have to be evolved. Each one will have to perform his duty and fulfil his/her obligations. We will have to be vigilant towards the policies, actions, decisions and working of the government, leaders, laws and institutions. Parliament will have to be strengthened and made sovereign in the true sense of the word. It will have to act independently and never serve the elite moneyed class and powerful establishment. It must not be allowed to become a servant for, and puppet in the hands of, the despots which unfortunately it has been- I had a very unenviable experience of this laxity on part of parliament; of the 217 MNAs in 1997-99 in National Assembly of Pakistan of which I was also one, only 20 to 25 took active part in its deliberations and the rest kept silent, showed indifference, and callousness. Unless parliament becomes sovereign, it will remain prone to intimidations, will continue to be used and abused by the establishment and will be at the mercy of military dictators and demagogues. If it becomes sovereign, no general can dare take over the country.

We can learn from the world in this respect. The USA had its constitution promulgated over tow hundreds years ago but only nine amendments have so far been made into it. Our constitution has already seen seventeen amendments in just 36 years of its history. We can learn from the British as well. Though there is no written constitution there but strong and independent judiciary and parliament has made it one of the coveted destinations for all. We should think why is there too much inequality? Why is there no check on the income and expenditures of the government? Why is parliament widely seen as a rubber stamp even by the layman? Why has it always stood behind all dictators- men who are responsible for all the ills of the country?

Middle class will have to be reinvigorated. A must step in this connection will be the abolition of Jagirdari system right away. Institutions will have to be established and strengthened.

TNS: Whenever there is an action against someone, he/she quickly dubs it political victimisation and escapes the law. How should this problem be resolved?

ALA: There should be rule of law if problems like these are to be avoided. Law should be equally applied to all without any preferential treatment to anyone. There should be no differentiation on any basis whatsoever. If there is sovereign parliament and independent judiciary, backed by a vigilant public opinion, no one can be victimized. The problem arises when there is general perception that judiciary can be employed for political gains against the political adversaries. After all judiciary not only adjudicates between persons but also between the ruled and the rulers. How can there be satisfaction and why wouldn’t there be misconceptions and allegations if judges are perceived as ‘friends of the ruling elite?’ if there are independent judges, if there is independent judiciary and the constitutions is followed, there wouldn’t and can’t be any question of political victimization. Justice after all should not be done but must seem to have been done.

TNS: Are you for abolition, modification or retaining of the Frontier Crimes Regulations?

ALA: FCR was promulgated by the British way back in 1901. It is now more than a century old. Conditions have changed considerably. Much water has passed under the bridge since then. The British have left and the area is now part of an independent state Pakistan. Many new ground realities have emerged. The tribal areas aren’t like these were in the past. An approximately 33 of them now live in settled areas through out Pakistan, though most do in Peshawar. Their living style has undergone transformation with the passage of time. Most have opted for education, trade, and jobs. The Dubai syndrome has brought enormous changes in their preferences for life. They are now mostly unlike the ones they were in 1901.  They deserve to be treated as human beings and free citizens of a free state. They should have fundamental rights; should not be governed by a political agent who are mostly corrupt, who plunder the tribal areas and make money at their cost.

FCR is no more valid. It has outlived its existence. It was promulgated by a colonial power to subdue and subjugate the tribes. Now they live in an independent country Pakistan as its free citizens. They shouldn’t be ruled now by laws which were meant for slaves. It has also proved to be of no worth. It has failed to check extremism, terrorism and Talibanisation. It couldn’t deliver. It is a black law and must be replaced by genuine and proper laws. It must be totally abolished.

Basic human rights should be given to the tribal people. Education and development should be given top priority there-female and male literacy rate in FATA is one and ten percent respectively which is highly regrettable and objectionable. Special incentives should be given to them to enrol their children in schools. FATA and PATA must be abolished sooner rather than later and made part of the province. Merge FATA and PATA into the province. Give them representation in provincial assembly and allocate special development funds for them along with the normal federal and provincial budget. I even dislike the term tribal areas. This word has become synonymous with lawless land, backwardness, extremism and terrorism. Tribal people are loving and humane people but they are considered identical with militants and terrorists due to the wrongs of a few amongst them. These people are every where, not only here. The areas have been practically taken over by extremists- they have subdued the five million odd population. They are themselves at the mercy of the terrorists. Drone attacks are continuing for long. And they now fear a limited nuclear strike by the US. They are the victims but their image has been tarnished. This picture and identity should be washed.

TNS: Where do you see Pakistan after ten years from now?

ALA: Historically speaking, agencies have always been supportive of the fundamentalist groups in the regions. In FATA and Pukhtoonkhwa, militants and fundamentalists were planted and nourished by the military establishment for ‘strategic depth’ in the region- an objective that is foolish to say the least. I warned the Pakistani leadership from the very outset that the doctrine of strategic depth will ultimately damage the country. In FATA, I myself have seen pamphlets in which the area under the Taliban sway in tribal built has been projected as part of the Amarat-e-Islami Afghanistan. So whosoever that supports these elements from the establishment is actually working for the dismemberment of Pakistan. Pakistan army is not coming up to the expectations of the people. It is unable to defend the country against drone attacks. It is performing very poorly. It has not been able to root out terrorists elements and they have complete control of parts of the country. And when you are paid for your services in war on terror, you are bound to be questioned, criticized and censured if you fail to perform upto the mark. I think it is high time that Pakistan changes its policy on terrorism and Afghanistan. I am afraid we are fast heading towards a disaster. If polices and preferences are not changed soon, Pakistan I fear may soon disappear from the world map within ten years. Pakistani rulers and establishment should realize that much harm has been already done. They should adapt to new realities.

TNS: What do you think should be done to correct the situation?

ALA: Some important decisions will have to be taken inside the country as well.

The rights of the smaller provinces should be accepted and they must be given financial autonomy and the control of the resources with in them. Constitution should be amended for this purpose. Secondly, we should build strong institutions. Nations are saved only by strong institutional setups, not by individuals. Thirdly, Pakistan should be transformed into a democratic welfare state. Various European countries, the US, and to some extent China have become welfare states that cater to all the basic needs of their citizens. Pakistan should learn from the world and follow suit.  There are present 40 to 50 billionaires in the country while majority lives in miserable conditions. An equitable distribution of wealth and resources between the people and provinces will have to be ensured. Certain basic amenities should be provided to all by the state. Extreme inequality in wealth, remunerations, and opportunities will have to be removed. The state and the rich should contribute to poverty alleviation. They should build hospitals, schools and industries. Fourthly, feudalism will have to be abolished once and for all. This class has always supported the dictators. Land reforms should be introduced sooner rather later. Women empowerment is also required. Education, jobs and economic freedom is vital for the emancipation of this 50% section of population.

TNS: The Swat deal has been criticised as capitulation to extremists. Some say it has brought about a parallel judiciary there. What do you say?

ALA: The swat deal has indeed established a parallel judiciary there. It excludes lawyers, modern educated judges. It has replaced them with medieval Qazis. This is why I am afraid the president won’t sign it in its current form.

The situation is Swat was not created in a day. The previous MMA government in the province let the extremists develop themselves enormously by its negligence. It was a great disservice to the region on their part. Also, Pakistani establishment has a long history of patronising the fundamentalist forces to use them against the ‘Red-threat’. It has officially been lenient and obedient to pro-religious forces. It may be recalled that Pakistan’s first constituent assembly held around 115 sittings to chalk out the outlines of the future constitution for Pakistan. Though it could not do the task it was supposed to do, it did okay the Objective Resolution. Even though it was not made a substantive part of the constitution, but it did pave the way for fundamentalism in the country. The clergy was emboldened. The official policy of appeasement of the religious bigots and condoning their excesses further encouraged them. Extremism became rampant and the whole society now suffers as result. Our entire curriculum was ‘Islamised’ that further aggravated the situation. The approach that a religious Pakistan would be solution to all the problems was foolish. A democratic and liberal Pakistan would instead be a better option.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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