Pakistan is preparing to host the 12th SAARC Chief Justices Conference and the 15th SAARCLAW Conference on September 14th and 15th, respectively. The former will be presided by Chief Justice of Pakistan, the Honourable Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, himself a founding member of SAARCLAW.

The fact that this apex forum of SAARC has agreed to let Islamabad host its dignitaries, including as-of-yet willingness by an Indian representative to participate, is a marked shift from previous attempts by New Delhi to sabotage the SAARC collective against Pakistan on accusations of “support for terrorism“. The fact that India compelled other regional member states to boycott the SAARC Conference of 2016 that was scheduled to be held in Islamabad is not an easily-forgettable part of memory.

But this visit also suggests confidence on Pakistan’s integrity and security improvements. In fact, the host Honourable Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa is so keen on ensuring well-being of his guests, that he held a meeting to directly discuss security arrangements with chiefs of the intelligence services (ISI, IB) and Islamabad Police.

Brief History

SAARCLAW is one of six apex bodies functioning under the SAARC Secretariat which was established in Colombo, Sri Lanka in October 1991 by then Sri Lankan President Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa with the core objective of harmonising laws/ policies to promote regional collaboration in the social, economic, technological and cultural spheres.

The Executive Council of SAARC comprises of Patrons, Permanent Members and Members from countries. The incumbent President Mr Mehmood Mandviwalla is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan and the second Pakistani citizen to be nominated to this illustrious slot.

Interestingly, this is his second term in the same coveted designation as he was previously also President from 2004 till 2006. The only Pakistani before him was Honourable Justice (Retired) Dr Nasim Hasan Shah, former Chief Justice of Pakistan who remained President from 1993 to 1995.

Current Status

Presently, the SAARCLAW Regional Secretariat is based in Nepali capital Kathmandu. It is a fact, however, that the forum is dominated by citizens of Indian origin. In this context, it should be remembered that the establishment in New Delhi has tried hard over the past couple of years to discredit Islamabad’s position in the international community through a concerted propaganda campaign aimed at getting Pakistan in the FATF ‘black list’ and other lawfare-centric shenanigans.

More recently, Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav’s trial in the International Court of Justice witnessed direct state-level confrontation between Pakistan and India. In this atmosphere of continued mistrust and aggression, mere participation by an Indian jurist in Islamabad will be beyond symbolic.

Senior Advocate of Supreme Court of India Mr KK Venugopal had participated at a SAARCLAW moot in Karachi in 2017, despite the occurrence of Uri terrorist attacks a year prior. There may be the same flexible approach this year. However, optimism aside, it is yet to be seen if a revived BJP government allows such a thing to occur.

Challenges Facing Pakistan

The fact of the matter is that India, for its part, has gradually tried to suck the “juice” (appeal) out of SAARC among key regional states and diverted their interest toward the larger BIMSTEC. Indications to this effect were given none other than by Dr S Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister who claimed that the utility of SAARC as as a platform has “problems“.

Pakistan, for its part, has taken some noteworthy steps to increase its positive legislative impressions through enforcement of laws pertaining to anti-money laundering/ accountability, counter narcotics and environmental awareness. But these are insufficient and rather dismal.

The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index (2019) ranks Pakistan globally at 117th position out of a total 126 countries, falling one position from the previous year.India and Sri Lanka have also plummeted down three and one positions, respectively. Apparently, only Nepal and Sri Lanka are the South Asian countries which improved their legal standing.

The increasing pressure of counter-terrorist financing regulation on Pakistan coupled with prevalent transparency issues only add to the State of Pakistan’s legal woes.

Whatever the theme of this year’s conference, terrorism will continue to remain the burning issue because of the flames being stoked persistently against Islamabad by New Delhi, bordering somewhere between obsession and hatred.

Honourable Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa’s personality as an individual who prefers to stay away from personal fame and glory and has not involved himself in any petty political posturing will play a critical role in determining how much of a boost Pakistan’s integrity will achieve by successfully hosting the SAARCLAW conferences.