ISLAMABAD, June 13: A political tsunami pummelled the capital on Friday as hundreds of thousands of charged lawyers and slogan-chanting political activists poured into Islamabad to pile pressure on a foot-dragging parliament to reinstate judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf when he imposed emergency rule in November last year.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose faction of the Pakistan Muslim League quit cabinet posts in May, told journalists upon arriving in Islamabad that Pakistan was incomplete without the judges who were put out of work by the president when he enforced the controversial Provisional Constitution Order.
“Let me tell you that the reinstatement of judges is very near,” he said.
While there was no official word if President Musharraf was in the capital, two flags flew over the presidency, indicating that the occupant of the house --- within a stone’s throw of the demonstration’s venue --- was indeed in Islamabad.
However, Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, chose to be in Karachi, where he gave a pep talk to union activists of the Pakistan Steel Mills who recently romped to victory in a referendum.
Athar Minallah, a spokesman for Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, told Dawn that the deposed chief justice of the Supreme Court would not address the marchers because they comprised members of the legal fraternity as well as red-hot, flag-waving political activists. A large number of members of civil society, including students of Jamia Fareedia, family members of victims of ‘enforced disappearances’, ex-servicemen and retired bureaucrats, were in evidence.
Reception camps were established in Rawalpindi and Islamabad to welcome the demonstrators of the long march protest, some of whom reportedly refused to break bread at a PPP camp.
Elaborate security arrangements were in place and the entire Constitution Avenue, which had been declared a ‘red zone’ on Thursday, was sealed so that the Parliament House, President House, Supreme Court building and other main buildings remained off-limits to the marchers.
The local administration in Rawalpindi stayed its hand when it took no action against some of the marchers who strayed into the cantonment area. On their part, the demonstrators withstood the temptation of marching on to the Army House.
Heavy contingents of Rangers and Punjab police were deployed at different places in the capital to assist the local police to prevent an eminently possible breakdown of law and order. A helicopter flew over the main venue of the demonstration.
Earlier, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Aitzaz Ahsan and former vice-chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council Ali Ahmed Kurd led the marchers into Rawalpindi. They were accorded a rousing welcome.
While their convoy entered the cantonment city at around 1pm, they had not come to the main demonstration venue in Islamabad till the filing of this report. A large number of lawyers came all the way from the NWFP to participate in the long march.
The political leaders who took part in the rallies included PML-N leaders Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Chaudhry Tanveer Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Liaquat Baloch and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan.
Cross-country caravans consisting of hundreds of slow-moving buses, mini-wagons, cars, jeeps, trucks streamed into the capital as a large number of demonstrators came on foot. They were encouraged by bystanders who enthusiastically chanted pro-judiciary slogans.
Posters bearing the images of the deposed chief justice and Aitzaz Ahsan and banners inscribed with anti-Musharraf slogans greeted the demonstrators as they entered Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
In a curious development, many PPP activists and members of the People’s Lawyers Forum also took part in the demonstration. Dr Israr Shah, who lost his legs to a bomb attack on a rally held to welcome the deposed chief justice on July 17, 2007, also spoke at the demonstration on Friday night.
Imran Khan of the PTI urged PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif to table a resolution in the National Assembly to reinstate the pre-emergency judiciary if the PPP was in a dither about fulfilling its pre-election promises. His suggestion was greeted with a sharp rise in slogan chanting.
Lawyers from across Pakistan commenced their long march simultaneously from Karachi and Quetta and, after making several stopovers in Sukkur, Multan, Bahawalpur, Sahiwal, Gujrat, Wazirabad, Lahore, Jhelum and Rawalpindi, converged on Islamabad’s Parade Avenue in a forceful show of strength.