The case of Atta ul Haq Qasmi

Columnist, writer and poet Atta ul HaqQasmi has been in the news recently. His appointment as the chairman of Pakistan Television Corporation has been questioned. Aside from the court case, an unfortunate media campaign has relentlessly targeted him. Such campaigns are designed to influence the courts and declare people guilty even before anything is proved in a court of law.

In hearing a petition filed against the absence of a permanent Managing Director for state-run Television, the attention of the Supreme Court of Pakistan was drawn towards the appointment of Mr. Qasmi as the chairman of PTV. Questioning the merits of Mr. Qasmi for this post, the perks and privileges given to him and the alleged lack of legal formalities followed in the appointment process angered the honorable chief justice and other members of the bench. The bench went to the extent of observing that in case the appointment turns out to be illegal, those responsible for it will be held accountable for mala fide intentions, thus liable to be tried under the dreaded provisions of article 62. This was a thinly veiled warning for the former Information Minister, Senator Parvez Rasheed, who admitted to appointing Mr. Qasmi as chairman PTV.

With due respect to the honourable court and the petitioners, it would be unfair to say that Mr. Qasmi did not have the required credentials to be appointed as chairman PTV. He has been, for more than four decades, Pakistan’s foremost humorist and dramatist. His contributions to PTV include such masterpieces as Khawaja and Son, Sheeda Talli and Shab Deg. He, along with such legends as Haseena Moin, Asghar Nadeem Sayyid, Nur-ul-Huda Shah, Younas Javed and others, should be lauded for his services to the PTV, rather than be ridiculed or subjected to slander. Reviving PTV to its former glory would have required appointing a person in charge who himself or herself was contributor to PTV’s golden age.

The other related question under public discussion pertains to the issue of remuneration. If public enterprises have to compete with the private sector, pay scales have to be competitive. Needless litigation on almost any major, senior-level appointment in public sector organizations – be it PIA, Steel Mill or PTV – is doing more harm than good. It actively discourages competent candidates to apply, as they fear being dragged into legal battles and made to cough up salaries drawn during their tenures in case their appointments are delegitimised. In its crusade to streamline public sector management and cleanse it of corruption and nepotism, the honourable court must also ensure that it does not create disincentives for professionals keen to serve the public sector.

Judicial activism has once again become a subject of public debates. When courts take up cases of political import, caution must be observed. The constitution defines the domains of governance and the institutional boundaries need to be respected. For instance, a few years ago, the Chaudhary court effectively made it impossible for the PPP government to function. We hope that history will not be repeated. If bureaucrats and high-ranking officials and ministers have to present themselves before the court on a daily basis, it is invariably going to impact their performance as public servants. Even worse, it embroils the honorable court in needless controversies. If the courts are going to micromanage everything from the unhygienic hormonal chicken feed to the appointment of chairman PTV, the provision of effective and speedy justice in the country is likely to suffer.  *

Published in Daily Times, March 5th 2018.