I lost count of how many times someone emailed me a link to a news report about Sharifuddin Pirzada, the lawyer who is leading Gen Musharraf’s defence team. The report was originally written by AFP, a French media group, but it has spread like fire since, appearing in countless newspapers both in Pakistan and internationally. The explanation that Pirzada is ‘just doing his job’ is perfectly valid – that is not my issue. My issue is why this explanation is only given for lawyers who defend dictators?
Gen Musharraf has been accused of serious crimes – no less than treason. He stands only accused, though, not convicted. He deserves a fair trial, including the best defence team. Only then can we be certain if he is actually guilty or actually innocent. He deserves this not because of his stature in the military, but that is how justice works.
So where were these news reports during the Salmaan Taseer case? Instead, headlines declared that no lawyer was willing to prosecute Salmaan Taseer’s killer. Lawyers lined up to defend Mumtaz Qadri, but there was no line of lawyers competing for a chance to defend Husain Haqqani. And what about the lawyer who defended Shakil Afridi? He has been forced to flee the country. Or what about the poor Christian girl Shazia Bashir? No lawyer would defend her also. When Sharifuddin defends military dictators, he is praised for his role in ensuring justice is done, but when Asma Jahangir asks questions about security agencies, she receives life threats.
Justice is not one sided. A man convicted or acquitted without a proper trial that includes the best prosecution and the best defence also has not received justice. Sharifuddin Pirzada performs an important duty when he defends dictators. Equally important, however, are those who represent less popular cases.