DAWN - Editorial; June 06, 2008
By Saira MintoIN ‘A plea for sanity’ (May 28), Murtaza Razvi focused on trashing the lawyers’ movement by indicating that it lacks vision and is isolated, a movement that was being carried on “in [a] vacuum … from day one”. He also alleged that lawyers and their representatives were acting with a “tunnel vision” without any assurance of light at the end and that their one-point agenda of restoration of the judiciary was making them miss “the only window of opportunity”, that is an agreement with Mr Zardari.
One can admire the writer’s boldness in loyally advocating participation in pro-establishment mainstream Pakistani politics and the brazenness with which the PPP is promoted as the only saviour of the current imbroglio. The PPP? A party that has always jumped at the slightest opportunity to strike deals with the establishment and which may just be renamed ‘PPP-Q’ in due course!
The lawyers confronted Musharraf and his establishment when it attempted to remove the chief justice in March 2007 by force, coercion and several manipulative devices including the pretence to act under Article 209 of the constitution. The lawyers, the public and the media thwarted that attempt by exposing it and by supporting the Supreme Court to provide it with the confidence needed to stand up to Musharraf. Political parties (especially mainstream) supported it marginally and cautiously.
The lawyers’ community is representative of a wide-ranging socio-cultural spectrum of Pakistani society and within itself it adheres to democratic norms. Estimated to be 100,000 in number and spread all over the country from grassroots tehsils and subdivisions to provincial and federal metropolises, the lawyers do not belong to any one political persuasion. They are a diverse lot.
What brings them together is their profession which is dependent on the existence of an independent judiciary and the prevalence of a system of governance based on the constitution. Their bar associations and councils are professional bodies duly elected from top to bottom. They act in unison whenever there is a threat to the constitution, to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. This is not the first time that they have done so.
In the time of Ziaul Haq, leading lawyers suffered harassment and long terms of imprisonment for raising their voices. The political parties did not unite with the lawyers even then but taking their cue from them established their own Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in Feb 1981. After the lawyers had held their conventions in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Rawalpindi and resorted to street protests, the MRD undertook an anti-martial law campaign independently. The two movements were separate but complemented each other in working for the same objective.
Today, when the lawyers’ movement, aided by the people’s approval, the media and the real judges, has already pushed back the establishment a few steps, the political parties, especially the ‘PPP-Q’, only seem to want to enter into deals and bargains with the junta purely for personal benefits, shamelessly disregarding their commitment given in the Charter of Democracy.
Musharraf’s Nov 2007 martial law (aka emergency) which was imposed against the backdrop of the lawyers’ movement should have been a time to consolidate political forces, speed up agitation against the regime and wrap up matters effectively and finally. Nothing of the sort, however, was forthcoming from the mainstream parties, and it was again the lawyers supported by civil society and the media who agitated against the president and his coteries. The complicity of the ‘PPP-Q’ was the most glaring when the party failed to launch a movement against this group even after Ms Bhutto’s ghastly murder.
The Feb 18 elections were held under grave circumstances. The election result is now widely acknowledged to be the people’s pronouncement against Musharraf, the establishment and the emergency/martial law. While all elected representatives agreed that the Nov 3 actions were unconstitutional and that Musharraf’s continuation in power would hamper the transition to democracy, the new Assembly delayed asserting its sovereign authority to overturn the acts of Nov 3 which could have been done by restoring the judiciary to its Nov 2 position.
The drafting and development of ‘constitutional packages’ were offered as justification for the delay and even now a partial and limited restoration is being proposed — while paying lip service to the formulations in the Bhurban Declaration and the independence of the judiciary.
It is strange, indeed, in this scenario for any serious and mature commentator to propose that the lawyers, civil society and the media simply shut up and fall in line with those who have not only once again reneged on their word but are also looking for excuses to hang on to the remains of a dictatorship for their own benefit and protection.
The lawyers’ approach has been focused and to call their integrity in pursuing it ‘tunnel vision’ qualifies as either an inane and ignorant joke or cruelty or both. Lawyers have not only acted wisely but exactly according to Jinnah’s principles of unity, faith and discipline. They have kept themselves away from political manipulators and self-seekers — something that helps them stay united and strong.
It should also be pointed out, for the record, that it is wholly incorrect that the lawyers’ movement is restricted to Punjab. The huge number of people that turned out for Chief Justice Chaudhry on his visit to Peshawar on May 31 is sufficient to refute that baseless assertion.
All over the world, movements are led by trade unions under one red flag, unpolluted by political vested interests. Lawyers are doing something similar in that sense through the common bond of their profession. Their movement is neither isolated nor apolitical. It is a movement of professionals who are themselves the mainstream and their politics comprises a campaign for true democracy, not hobnobbing with the establishment. To a lot of people, there seems to be a more real and brighter light at the end of this tunnel than there is at the end of the one that the ‘PPP-Q’ wishes to drag this country through.
The long march of June 10 is well timed. If they happen, and hopefully they will, both Musharraf’s exit and the restoration of judiciary will be events that will come about as a result of the lawyers’ movement, and not because of this or that ‘constitutional package’ and the mass deception that accompanies it.
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