A lawyer’s fame is like a writing on a sand beach. In the turbulent political and constitutional history of Pakistan, where in a period of 75 years, three constitutions and several legal frame-work orders were promulgated, almost every political crisis ended up in the high halls of Federal and Supreme Courts, the primacy and importance of great legal minds is bound to earn fame or notoriety depending on the side of the line they stand.
Moreover, in a society where people are economical with truth and allergic to research, half-truths largely form opinions which are hard to dislodge. So is the case with the life and times of the late Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada.
The legal career of Sharifuddin Pirzada spanned over about seven decades of Pakistan’s history. He became twice the foreign minister of Pakistan, three times and the longest serving attorney-general for Pakistan and one time law minister and advisor to the Chief Executive & a Prime Minister. He also served as the Secretary General of the OIC.
He was a prolific writer and authority on Pakistan Movement and his works are cited as an authentic source. He was the most well-read person in Pakistan with one of the richest private libraries containing over hundred thousand of books which he wanted to be used by scholars for research.
Always equipped with a disarming smile, his personality is wrapped in mystery and half-truths spread by rivals, the misinformed and disgruntled elements who depict and criticize only one side of his multifaceted personality.
Many aspects of his life are known only to his closest friends, family and quite a few people whom he helped they were struggling in life. He always extended courtesy to others and his generosity and support for the less privileged is unknown to many of his cruel critics.
Many people owed high judicial offices and status in life solely due to him. He had a great eye for talent and appreciation for hard work. He always respected the learned and wise people and always helped if he could people facing adversity.
SS Pirzada was born in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, India on 12 June 1923 in a Syed family. This is his centenary year. The place was once visited by Aurangzeb and the town now has a sizable Muslim population. Mumtaz Mahal was initially buried there before her remains were shifted to Taj Mahal. One of the greatest virtues of Pirzada’s life was that according to the dictates of Allah the Almighty he always helped his fraternity in need.
He graduated in law from the Bombay University in 1944. Former Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagwatti was his class-fellow. He used to work in MA Jinnah’s office in the evening as an assistant and a research volunteer. He actively promoted All India Muslim League’s cause with his well-researched pamphlets. Some people alleged that his picture with Jinnah and MK Gandhi was fake. That picture is available in the seminal work on Gandhi’s life, Mahtama Gandhi’s Papers.
Pirzada, like every young man, having modest means but a brilliant mind and a great capacity for hard-work, joined the legal profession after obtaining a law degree at Bombay and briefly worked in Akbar Pirbhai’s chambers. After Pakistan came into being, he migrated to Pakistan with 300 rupees in his pocket, leaving his wife behind who was a lecturer in a college. Faced with strange surroundings where hard-work was the sole ladder to success in the legal profession. Top Sindhi lawyers dominated the bar after the migration of Hindu lawyers, it was hard to make an impression at the bar too soon.
Many people don’t know that it was young Sharifuddin who filed a writ petition on behalf the late Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan, the speaker of the constituent assembly in 1954.
The petition and other material of the case were later on compiled by him in a book titled Battles in Court Rooms (1995) with foreword written by Sajjad Ali Shah, former Chief Justice of Pakistan, whose father Roshan Ali Shah was the registrar of the Sind(h) Chief Court who provided all logistic help in the filing of Moluvi’s petition which the then central government intended to thwart at any cost. Pirzada’s role in that case was duly appreciated by D.N. Pritt, an English advocate, who represented Tamizuddin Khan in the Federal Court, in his book The Autobiography of D.N. Pritt: The defence accuses.
Pirzada was enrolled as the senior advocate in 1956 on the recommendation of Chief Justice Mohammad Munir. As against the general impression when Ayub Khan’s martial law was given legitimacy by the Supreme Court in the State v. Dosso (1958) case Mr Pirzada was not the counsel. Again, quite contrary to the general belief, Pirzada was appointed amicus curie in the Asma Jillani’s case (1972) and his submissions are a treat for a constitutional lawyer. He opposed Yahya Khan’s regime as mentioned in Rafi Raza’s book. Every important constitutional case in the 1960s reflects his depth of knowledge and legal acumen.
Many people do not know that he briefly tutored the late Z.A. Bhutto during his Bombay days. When Pirzada was appointed as the foreign minister after the Tashkent episode it was perhaps not liked by the late Bhutto.
Mr. Pirzada who had to travel to attend a conference on international law but his passport was impounded by the government. Pirzada filed a writ petition in the High Court of Sindh that was dismissed (1975) with a strong and erudite dissent from the late Fakhruddin G Ibrahim for whom Pirzada throughout out his life had a great regard.
After the events of 1977 and imposition of martial law by Gen Zia Ul Haq, Pirzada became the attorney-general and represented the federal government in the Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s case. This is the most controversial case in our constitutional history for more than one reasons. But for the first time the constitution was not abrogated and put in abeyance only which meant that the constitution of 1973 which is the social and political contract lives on after fifty years despite having faced many turbulences.
Often asked why he supported a martial law regime he would reply with usual smile that after the starting years it was clear to him that real democracy would remain elusive. Moreover, when the interventions are made their legality is hardly a consideration.
And finally, his association with the said regimes he would say that he tried to save the system from total collapse. Hardly convincing though it looks but having observed him closely after the 1999 military intervention it was noticed that despite severe limitations his presence effectively curtailed hardships.
The power to amend the constitution was given by the Supreme Court in the Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s case (1977). A controversy propped up that amending power was allegedly included through a subsequent interpolation. The matter was resolved by the Supreme Court in Mehmood Achakzai’s case (1997).
None of the judges who signed that judgement ever disputed the grant of amending power. Recently it was said by a learned advocate that the late Pirzada impliedly threatened Chief Justice Anwar Ul Haq. On the contrary, the Chief Justice and other judges had taken an oath soon after the martial law regime came to power and having acted upon the amendment it was only natural that the said power was conceded.
In any case, the matter was set at rest for all times to come in paragraph 49 of the leading judgement of Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. Chief Justice Haq in his book Revolutionary Legality in Pakistan published in 1993 acknowledged the grant of amending power by the Supreme Court and all other eight judges who lived long thereafter and never disputed that grant of amending power.
The propriety of giving such power is another issue. Interestingly, Parliament had the occasions to do away with amendments made during martial law regimes but most of them were continued even after the 18th Amendment.
Pirzada was a thorough professional who was engaged by Benazir Bhutto in the Sabir Shah’s cases (1994-95) and made ambassador at large by her for life.
She used to frequently consult him on legal matters. Pirzada had no role in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s death penalty and this was accepted by Benazir Bhutto as well, otherwise why she would appoint Pirzada as an ambassador at large. Mian Nawaz Sharif acknowledged his legal acumen and also availed his legal services in a number of cases, including the 1998 financial emergency case and bestowed upon him Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1998.
Pirzada was very scrupulous with public money. He returned an allotment letter of a commercial plot blue area Islamabad and a plot proposed to be given by the Housing Foundation. He lived a simple life and a had disliking for protocol. He died on June 2, 2017 in Karachi. May his soul rest in peace!
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023
The writer is Advocate Supreme Court and a former Additional Attorney-General for Pakistan