WASHINGTON, June 29: Pakistani physicians in America concluded their three-day annual session in Washington on Sunday pledging a strong support for the lawyers’ movement for the reinstatement of the deposed judges. They had invited leaders representing all shades of opinion on the judicial dispute to a gathering for which people had to pay $50 each to attend.
Hundreds attended the discussion but not necessarily to listen to the speakers, but primarily to vent their angst and anger.
The first major speaker at this meeting was MQM’s Farooq Sattar who was greeted with slogans condemning his party’s position on the judicial issue.
People were particularly eager to show their anger over the May 12, 2007 incident when scores of people were killed in Karachi during a rally to greet the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
Mr Sattar told the audience that his party was “a victim, not the offender” and that the MQM had offered to hold a judicial inquiry to determine who was responsible for the May 12 massacre.
“Dozens of MQM workers were killed on that day and yet we are blamed for doing something we did not,” he said.
But people were not willing to listen. Many stood on their seats, shouting “Qatilo jawab do, khoon ka hisab do.” The commotion forced Mr Sattar to cut short his speech.
But all hell broke lose when Ambassador Husain Haqqani came to the stage and urged the people also to listen to those who disagree with them.
“Stop pontificating (bhashan band karo),” shouted the audience.
“If this is how you treat your speakers, why do you invite them,” asked the ambassador. “If you invite people who differ with you on certain issue, you must also listen to them.”
But people were not in a mood to listen. Desperate and angry, the ambassador held the microphone tight and shouted: “Today you are insulting me but tomorrow when you need passports, you will come to me.”
This proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. People lunged to the stage. A lady doctor, Ghazala, tore the microphone away from the ambassador. Others tried to grab him but he evaded them.
“Listen to me. Let me explain. Please try to understand what I am saying,” the ambassador appealed. “We do not want to listen to you. Get out,” the audience shouted back.
This forced the US diplomatic security guards to intervene. They came to the stage to save the Pakistani ambassador from angry Pakistanis and took him away.
The guards also stopped Congressman Keith Ellison, the only Muslim member of the US Congress, from addressing the angry crowd and took him away too. The crowd, which included many Jamaat-i-Islami sympathisers, however, was very receptive to Hafiz Salman Butt, a Jamaat leader from Lahore, who is known in his city as the Jamaat’s tough guy.
He assured the lawyers that whenever they restarted their long march or lay siege to parliament, the Jamaat would be on the forefront of their movement.
PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal also received a warm welcome and got a standing ovation when he said that his party had “given up ministries for principles in a country where people sacrifice their principles for smaller gains.”
But it was Aitzaz Ahsan, leader of the lawyers’ movement, who was the hero of the crowd.People stood up and clapped for 10 minutes even before he spoke. Although this was his third speech in the convention, and he had nothing new to say, people clapped on almost every sentence he spoke and gave him another standing ovation when he finished.“We will restart the long march and do it soon,” he declared. “The lawyers are united and we will not quit until the judges are restored.”
Justice (retired) Wajihuddin was the last speaker who gave a brief overview of the lawyer’s movement but by then people had lost interest in the proceedings and the audience had split into groups, discussing if it was right to treat the ambassador the way they did.