On January 9, 2018, Zainab Ansari, a six-year-old girl, was found raped and murdered in Kasur. For months, her piercing grey eyes haunted every parent who feared the same could happen to their own children. Quick justice was served in the case and the culprit was hanged within nine months of his arrest.
A Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, also received justice towards the end of last year when she was acquitted in a long-running trial over blasphemy charges. Her acquittal was followed by a violent, though mercifully brief, countrywide shutdown by champions of the blasphemy law. Aasia Bibi was consequently barred from leaving the country and is still living in state custody — as are many of those who are opposing her exoneration.
The case of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a 27-year-old aspiring model, originally from South Waziristan tribal agency, still lingers. He was killed in Karachi on January 13 last year in an alleged police encounter. His family accused Rao Anwar, a senior superintendent of police in Karachi, as having orchestrated the killing. The incident became a rallying cry for the Mehsud tribesmen who gathered, initially in Karachi and then in Islamabad, for a prolonged sit-in to demand justice for Naqeebullah. This movement later transformed into the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).
A former prime minister, his daughter and his son-in-law were also clutched by the long arms of law and justice last year for owning assets beyond their means. Many assets of a former finance minister and his family were taken over by the state for his failure to stand trial over allegations of helping his boss, the former prime minister (and also co-father-in-law), abuse his financial powers. A former president and his sister, too, are facing investigation and trial over corruption, money laundering and unlawful business practices. A former chief minister has been, similarly, detained over allegations of corruption and misuse of authority while his sons, as well as a son-in-law, have also been accused of abuse of power for personal gains. A federal minister and his brother have also been arrested and are being investigated for their alleged involvement in a real estate scam.
In between these landmark cases, and perhaps overshadowed by them, an elected Parliament completed its term and an election was held to bring in a new Parliament and a new government.
Now, look back at all this again and you will find a common thread. Each of these developments has Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar written on them –– often in large print but sometimes rather finely.
He was everywhere: from guaranteeing security to Rao Anwar before he surrendered to law-enforcement agencies to taking a suo motu notice of Zainab’s killing; from acquitting Aasia Bibi to taking note of corruption in high places; and from lording over the election commission on the conduct of the July polls to ordering a countrywide anti-encroachment drive that has rendered many homeless and jobless. He has also chastised a chief minister for arbitrarily transferring police officers and hauled journalists, owners of media houses, politicians and other public figures to courts on contempt of court charges.
Justice Nisar frequently raided hospitals, not just to check the quality of the medical care they provide but also to see how some under-trial politicians were being kept there. He was enraged to find them living in luxury –– and in one famous case, possessing bottles containing suspect substances. He inspected courts — and in one widely covered incident, reprimanded a judge for using his mobile phone during court hours. He also hauled mineral water companies to court, telling them to pay for the water they were extracting from the ground.
His single most significant initiative, however, has been his untiring championing of the construction of at least two large dams in the country. He has appeared on television, addressed public seminars and travelled as far as England to collect funds for them.
All this should make it easy to nominate him as the Herald’s Person of the Year 2018.
This excerpt is part of the Herald's January 2019 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.