What lawyers want
WHEN Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was purportedly removed from his office by General Musharraf, the legal fraternity launched a historic movement which culminated in his restoration. While the lawyers were the vanguard of the movement, political parties and members of civil society also joined the bandwagon.
A vibrant media brought the intensity and the passion of the struggle into every household. Had the legal fraternity remained quiet and indifferent, the general would have easily gotten away with the prime prize that every dictator longs for — a pliant judiciary.
That summer of discontent ignited by the lawyers will be long remembered as our finest hour. Aitzaz Ahsan, Muneer Malik, Tariq Mehmood, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Hamid Khan and all those who participated in the movement will continue to inspire our future generations.
While the Chief Justice was restored by a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court, the march of the lawyers did not stop there. They vowed to continue their struggle. The next goal was to obstruct the election of General Musharraf as president for another term.
To thwart his ambitions, the lawyers knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court. When their expectations were dashed by the worldly realities which have become the fate of this hapless nation, they took the initiative once again and nominated their own candidate to block the general’s unopposed election. They found a candidate of extraordinary stature and integrity in Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed.
Neither lawyers nor their candidate had the slightest illusions about winning the presidency. Indeed, that was not even their objective. The reason why Justice (retd) Wajihuddin entered the fray was to oppose the usurpation of the highest office by the general for yet another five years. His presence ensured moral defeat of the general despite his numerical strength.
The matter ended up in the Supreme Court again. The issue before the court was the lack of eligibility of the general to contest the election and the absence of mandate of the electoral college to elect a president at the end of its own term for a fresh term of five years. The Supreme Court entertained the petitions but refused to stay the election.Since the matter is still pending before the court, it is best to avoid discussion. It can only be hoped and prayed that principle not expediency will emerge as the victor, and the cold winds of pragmatism will not freeze this nation in its past. A triumph of hope over experience.
While the court has yet to decide the constitutionality of this exercise, General Musharraf and his coattails have already declared victory. The presidential election won by General Musharraf was such a farce that it did not even need rigging to win it. The fraudulent nature of the exercise can be gauged by the fact that even the referendum in 2002 had to be rigged by Musharraf to secure a face-saving victory, but not this election.
Here was an army chief seeking re-election in uniform from an electoral college itself a product of manipulation and about to run out of life. This is what it was about. While the referendum was an embarrassment for Musharraf, this election is a disgrace for the nation.
While there was a broad consensus in society about the desirability of the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice, questions are now being asked as to how far the legal fraternity should go in this political struggle.
There are voices suggesting that having secured vindication for their chief, the lawyers should return to their professional work and serve the litigants. They should not indulge in partisan politics and leave it to political parties to fight it out in the political arena. They have also been criticised for praising the court only when the court decides in their favour but showing disrespect when the court decides otherwise.
It is indeed true that lawyers owe a duty to the litigants whom they represent in courts. They have a legal as well as moral obligation to discharge their professional duties. But is discharge of their obligation to their clients incompatible with what the legal fraternity has been doing since March 9, 2007?
What were the objectives of the lawyers’ movement? The restoration of the Chief Justice was certainly the immediate goal but not an end in itself. His restoration was sought by the lawyers, not as a personal victory for him but as a vindication of other greater objectives.
These were the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, restoration of the democratic process, subordination of military to elected civilian authority, the protection of fundamental rights of the people and holding the government accountable to the people.
What was achieved on July 20 was only the immediate goal. Events subsequent to July 20 have amply demonstrated that the greater objectives remain to be achieved. These would not come easily by a single judgment of the Supreme Court. It is a long struggle which requires sacrifice, patience and persistence.
Is asking for an independent judiciary, rule of law and respect for the Constitution indulging in partisan politics? The lawyers may have individual political preferences but as members of the legal fraternity they neither have political ambitions nor political preferences.
They have constitutional objectives, which if achieved, even by half, would make us a much better and civilised country. Instead of suggesting to the lawyers to quit the movement at this vital juncture, we should invite other members of society to join the struggle. It is about all of us and not just the lawyers. The stakes are not about the private interests of lawyers. It is nothing short of our survival as a nation.
The lawyers have ignited the spark, not of violence but of hope and awareness. This should not be extinguished. Either we rise to the occasion now or sink to the depths of stagnation for years to come.
It is also true that lawyers have praised some of the decisions of the court and criticised others. The lawyers being a conscientious and enlightened segment of the society must always be courteous and respectful to the institution of the judiciary as their respect and dignity depends upon that institution. They must not lose sight of this basic tenet even when evaluating a court’s verdict critically.
But it must also be remembered that when the issues before the court are not private rights and interests of their clients, but larger national issues, the response of the lawyers is bound to be critical.
Where lawyers are pitched against the ambitions of dictators and entrenched establishments, and they seek vindication of the principles of the rule of law, independence of judiciary and supremacy of the Constitution, they are entitled to praise the court when these principles are honoured and criticise the court when the judgments are to the contrary. There is nothing hypocritical or wrong about it.
The achievements of the summer of 2007 are remarkable and will continue to enliven us for a long time to come. Yet as a nation we still have a long way to go. At this crucial moment in our history, the lawyers must not quit. To quote Robert Frost, ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.’
No cause for despair
GENERAL Musharraf has succeeded in his desire to stay on in power. His election for a record third term has gone off well, and he has every reason to savour this moment of unprecedented triumph. And yet one suspects that the Oct 6 exercise has not brought an end to the crisis unleashed since the president’s botched attempt to oust the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, surely an unpardonable assault on the judiciary.
This was followed by police brutalities against lawyers, journalists and members of civil society. Finally, a ‘deal’ was concluded with Benazir Bhutto to enable the general to claim that he had embarked on the path of national reconciliation.
The result of all these ‘developments’, however, was that the president’s ‘election’, expected to be a fairly routine affair, was transformed into a raging controversy that has left the nation more divided than ever before.
No wonder that the people are showing all the signs of apathy bordering on cynicism. What explains this mood of despair and despondency? After all, Musharraf is not the first military commander who having seized power from elected representatives has refused to walk away.
This glorious tradition goes back to 1958, some would say to 1954. Should the people not have become accustomed to rule by diktat? Is this not how most Muslim countries have chosen to be governed? What then makes the people of Pakistan feel humiliated at the sight of uniformed men controlling their destinies?
For one, Pakistan was not the result of war or conquest, nor was it the preserve of an individual or family. Its creation has to be credited to the Muslim masses of the subcontinent, led by leaders who pursued their goal legally and constitutionally.
In education, outlook and upbringing, Pakistan is more a part of the South Asian subcontinent and much less of the Middle East.
This explains why so many people in Pakistan are repelled at the thought of the army chief seeking re-election as head of state, something that goes against the very soul of democracy.
The president laid claim to another tenure on the ground that his eight years in power had resulted in economic growth and political stability.
Admittedly, since 9/11 the country has registered high rates of economic growth. But has this been the result of sound economic policies or have they come about because of the remarkable events unfolding in the wake of 9/11?
Even the massive increase in remittances from overseas Pakistanis can be ascribed to the after-effects of this event. In terms of economic policies, has this government introduced anything different from that of its predecessors for the common man?
If anything, by engaging in the indiscriminate sale of major enterprises, at throwaway prices and in questionable deals, it has permitted national assets to pass on to individuals and groups that have little stake in the country’s future.
The regime’s policies have simply crushed the poor citizens under the weight of spiralling inflation and the absence of any social ‘safety net’. The claim of ‘trickle-down’ is nothing but a mirage.
As regards political stability — a favoured claim of all authoritarian regimes — the government’s track record is simply spotty. While espousing ‘enlightened moderation’, the regime has pursued a policy of ‘marginalisation’, leading the country inexorably towards intolerance and extremism.
More violence and bloodshed have been witnessed in the past seven years than at any time before. Nearly 1,000 soldiers have died in armed conflicts with the militants, while hundreds have been taken captives.
Two of the four provinces face insurgencies, while suicide bombings — something unheard of before — have now become routine. And yet, the perception in the US is that Pakistan has not done enough.
The regime’s claim to clean, efficient and honest governance was never credible given the fact that the huge federal cabinet consisted of many with unsavoury reputations and quite a few on the country’s exit control list.
Moreover, the reported involvement of the regime’s leading luminaries in sugar and wheat scandals has left a bitter taste in the mouth of the poor. But even this pretence of clean government was abandoned when the regime, in its desperation to secure the support of a particular political party, agreed to a ‘deal’ with those it had always branded as ‘crooks and thieves’.
This effort to provide blanket amnesty to those accused of massive corruption negates the very principles of justice and equity, and has rightly outraged people all over the country. But what is remarkable is that notwithstanding the absence of democracy and many other major shortcomings, General Musharraf remains the Bush administration’s preferred choice.
This is because he is still viewed as the best option to pursue Washington’s primary objective, namely the war on terror, with unflinching vigour and commitment. But since it was no longer possible to ‘sell’ the huge assistance package for Pakistan to an increasingly sceptical Congress, Washington came up with the ingenious formula of a military-civil compact wherein Musharraf would retain control over issues relating to defence, national security, intelligence and foreign affairs, while the civilian political leadership would confine itself to areas such as health, education and social welfare.
It was this strong American desire, coupled with the general’s own perception that he needed the support of a mainstream moderate political party to cloak himself in the garb of legitimacy, that explains why he was willing to disavow all that he had said and written about Benazir Bhutto. Being a proud and stubborn man, this must have been deeply humiliating to him, but then, power is an aphrodisiac which once tasted can never be given up.
Even though believers in a genuine democratic dispensation and the rule of law would be disappointed with the latest turn of events, it would be wrong and premature for them to give up hope.
What the lawyers’ community, media representatives and members of civil society have demonstrated has been remarkable courage and fortitude in the face of tremendous pressure including physical assaults and the use of state agencies to harass and intimidate them.
But they have stood their ground, demonstrating that the human spirit can overcome tremendous odds, given conviction and resolve. What has been gained may not have been enough, but its importance should not be minimised.
Pakistan is a strong and more vibrant society because of the current struggle for democracy. The struggle must continue if Pakistan is to remain a nation of people who are proud of their past, but equally confident of their future.
The price of change
A CHANGE is as good as a holiday somebody once remarked, giving the idea a positive image. But if by change we mean ‘development’, the breaking down of services, overzealous police protection, destruction of the environment and the loss of tourism translated into loss of income-generation, it is hard to think of these happenings as positive.
I first came to Pakistan in 1980. I immediately became besotted with the landscape and by the people. Twenty-seven years on, I am still besotted. True, I no longer wear rose-tinted glasses, but the love is stronger than ever, as I have put down roots in my adopted homeland.
Peshawar has changed. The colour has gone, as the flowers have all but gone. The dynamism has gone — gone with the departure of the Afghan refugees. The Old City is crumbling before our eyes. Old Anglo-Indian buildings are in need of restoration. There is constant talk of development, of population explosion, the need for wider roads so that we can absorb a few more million vehicles, have housing for the poor and so on.
In reality, as soon as one plaza is built, another is being planned. The widening of the roads means loss of green verge, of oxygen-giving trees; those that are left will have green leaves drooping with dust as those on the Lowari Pass.
To drive from Peshawar to Chitral is still an adventure, albeit the last bit is now on a pukka road, when it is finished that is. The major part of the network of roads in the Malakand Agency has been going through a continuous programme of widening and smoothing for so long that as one is finished it is time to start redoing the first ones…
The Lowari Pass itself is now witnessing the making of a tunnel on the other side of the pass. A disaster waiting to happen as one resident of Chitral put it. I am not an engineer, but building tunnels is a bit like building high-rise apartment blocks with engineers forgetting that this is an earthquake region. Tourists, especially foreign ones, are now conspicuous by their absence.
All along the route, the old chaikhanas and hotels I used to visit have folded up post 9/11. Some, like the PTDC in Dir and the fort at Naga have become a home away from home for tunnel workers or those of the National Highway Authority.
As for Chitral, gone is the charming rural town of yesteryear. Now there is a haphazard collection of cement buildings, with the original narrow bazaar threatening all and sundry with its motorised traffic. Instead of handicrafts, it is mobile phones appealing to the passersby.
There are more young people around, including women. They are getting educated. Good, people say, but there are no jobs. The rural community is suffering from the loss of labour. Local men and women train to be doctors. Great. They can come back and help the people of Chitral. How many will do that is unknown, especially when the privileged educated seek jobs abroad or at least in the big cities of Pakistan.
A few years ago, a group of young Kalash boys used to congregate at my house. One is currently in the UK. Another one is hoping to go to Australia. Another two are in Greece. One is working in an NGO in Gilgit and one, only one, is working in Chitral as a lawyer trainee.
And what of the valleys themselves over the years? Many changes. Only Birir has kept its pristine image, but for how long? The Kalash are yearning to buy metal roofs that will be hot in summer and cold in winter and against which they will hear the rain like the sound of falling pebbles. Bumburet is ruined thanks to a PTDC building which the Kalash fought to have stopped. Other large hotels have been built and since 9/11 they have all become white elephants, in the process taking away good agricultural land from the local people.
Lest the readers think that I have only negative feelings, may I hasten to add that there are voices out there. Voices that have pointed out the pitfalls of having a cement jungle in the Kalash valley, voices that are crying out against the destruction of the forest, the demolition of precious historical buildings, the continuing construction of these interminable plazas, built only for the elite, voices that are at last being heard and acknowledged.
The government has a plan for the valleys both short and long term (though one hopes that the idea of a Kalash Development Authority, after the example of the CDA of Islamabad, might be scrapped!) which envisions a wide range of pragmatic upliftment schemes. In Peshawar, the governor and provincial government are on record as saying that the preservation of heritage will now be a priority. So, it can’t be all bad.
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007|