Afzal Khan in Islamabad
Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan agreed to represent Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for a token fee of Rs 100, but put tough conditions before he agreed to plead for Gilani in the contempt of court case before the Supreme Court.
Foremost of the conditions was to keep at bay people who had engaged in “uncouth” criticism of the judiciary and the judges. The Barrister was clearly referring to PM Gilani’s earlier counsel and former law minister Babar Awan.
“Unlike in the past, when I represented you while you were in jail and charged you no fee, you will pay me a fee by a cheque in the name of ‘Aitzaz Ahsan and Associates’ the sum of Rs 100,” reads the invoice sent by Aitzaz’s law firm to the Prime Minister.
In the invoice issued on January 17, a day after the apex court issued a contempt notice to Gilani for not complying with court orders on NRO implementation, the Barrister first spelt out his conditions: Persons indulging in unpalatable and uncouth criticism of superior courts be restrained, was the first condition. You and I will travel to the courts by ourselves, and in all humility, without a procession of any kind, the Barrister added.
The conditions appear to have been fulfilled for now as Gilani himself drove to the Supreme Court, with his counsel, on January 19. The firebrand former counsel, Babar Awan, was nowhere to be seen.
The payoff has worked for Gilani as well. Aitzaz was able to secure breathing time of two weeks from the court, till February 2, for the next hearing. The court also spared the Prime Minister from appearing in person for the next hearing.
Aitzaz Ahsan, a leading figure in the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of judiciary, had also pleaded the case of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry when the latter was sacked the first time. Barrister Ahsan had also charged Justice Chaudhry a token amount.
In normal cases, however, his fees run into millions. Aitzaz recently admitted taking Rs 15 million as fee from Haris Steel Mills to defend its case in the Lahore High Court.
Besides appearing for the Chief Justice, Aitzaz has been the counsel for former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in the past.
In his invoice-cum-draft agreement with Gilani, the lawyer also spelt out his strategy before taking up the case. “You have always known my position on the basis of which I have continuously advised the government that since the office of the President (whosoever be the incumbent) imparts full immunity to the incumbent, temporarily for the duration of the office, at home and abroad, the writing of the letter would not be of any consequence.”
“Though the letter to Switzerland would not have resulted in a prosecution, you have a defence if you thought it appropriate not to be seen to have set a precedent of pushing the President of our country into a public ordeal before a foreign forum,” he added. This would have amounted to throwing a man into a foreign fire in the belief that he cannot be harmed by domestic fire, said the lawyer.