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US Must Play Role In Pakistan

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No one in this world has the right to harm fellow human beings on the basis of colour, relgion or race. All human beings have the responsibility to accept the law. The rulers are not exempted from the law. Here situation is totally different. The rulers have been defying the law, but only the poor are being killed on the name of terrorism. The rulers in Pakistan must be told to accept the rule of law. Being a super power the United States has the responsibility to tell Pakistani rulers to accept the law. If the rulers of Pakistan accept the rule of law then there will be no terrorism in this world. The rulers have been breeding terrorism just to keep themselves in power. The people of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas are the worst victims of cruel policies of Pakistani rulers.

Now situation in Pakistan is still critical. According to Abbas Rashid, Seldom in our history has civil society been so vociferously opposed to the prospect of general elections and virtually unified in its demand for a boycott.

There are many reasons for this demand. Among other things, the run up to the January 8 elections was marked by the declaration of emergency and the deposition of the majority of the judges comprising Pakistan’s higher judiciary. This gave further impetus to the remarkable, sustained and unprecedented struggle carried out by the lawyers in support of the judges who chose to follow their conscience rather than succumb to the imperatives of power and position. There was a crackdown on the media and even though most channels are back on air, PEMRA regulations remain a threat, encouraging self-censorship.

Over time, journalists, women’s groups and professional associations have been joined by students in their demand for the restoration of the deposed judges. So far, however, such a restoration is not on the cards. Political parties who see this as a high priority, as well as those who don’t, are accordingly gearing up for elections they fear are unlikely to be fair or transparent.

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For its part, civil society by and large, led by the lawyers and bar associations that have been the backbone of the struggle, finds the conduct of the parties unacceptable and the elections pointless. Underlying the boycott advocacy is the notion that if political parties were to do so, Musharraf could be forced out and an independent judiciary restored. Exactly how this would happen, given the balance of power that currently prevails, is not quite clear.

Nevertheless, the sense of outrage and betrayal among the legal fraternity is real and palpable. Perhaps, the reason is that two distinct phenomena are being conflated here. One is the conduct, courage and resilience demonstrated by the bar and the bench over the better part of 2007. Many are of the view that it is unprecedented in Pakistan. They are only half right. It is unprecedented, period.

(At least, on my part, many a search on the net has failed to yield a precedent. Those who have been a part of it can rightly be proud of having created a legacy not just for those who will follow them in Pakistan.)

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Consider how the US National Law Journal explains its choice of Lawyer of the Year: ‘Chaudhry is a bit of a departure, since normally our sights are set on the American legal community. And there were certainly numerous US lawyers who deserved mention, as indicated by the many nominations we received from our readers. The unusual choice of Chaudhry was prompted by the rare instance of a judge taking such a bold and influential stand against a government in defence of judicial independence and the rule of law.’

So there should be no confusion about the significance of this phenomenon, particularly in a country such as Pakistan where civil society has always been considered weak. The role of the media and the others, too, provides evidence of a more vibrant civil society than assumed so far.

Now let us turn to the other phenomenon: the civil-military imbalance that characterises our polity and has developed over the course of the last 60 years, virtually since Pakistan became independent.

The question is, given the situation, are we struggling to create more space for democratic politics in however messy and imperfect a fashion or do we see this as a revolutionary moment with a revolutionary party in place to dispense with the existing order? It is certainly a transformative moment for civil society. But how it will impact politics and political parties remains to be seen.

Which then raises the question: how should the legal fraternity engage with the political parties, almost all of the major ones having opted for participation in the elections?

It can, of course, put them in the same camp as Musharraf for participating in an election that many think gives him legitimacy. Or it can find ways and means to move them towards its own agenda, notwithstanding their many shortcomings — keeping the issue alive while pressurising the parties in Parliament to restore the judges, perhaps through an act of parliament.

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Something along these lines was proposed by Aitzaz Ahsan who found himself squarely at the point of antagonistic convergence between his pro-election PPP of which he is a key leader and the anti-election Supreme Court Bar Association of which he is currently the president.

In a letter to his fraternity, he had proposed that in the event of all major parties opting to contest the momentum be used to advantage and candidates ‘pre-qualified’ by having them commit in the District Bar Associations before the General House to support any measure in parliament aimed at the restoration of the deposed judges.

His well-considered proposal could have served to push the political parties in the right direction and raise for them the cost of not making such a commitment. The proposal seems to have been somewhat summarily dismissed by the legal fraternity with much of civil society following suit. As matters stand, Aitzaz Ahsan has done the right thing by yielding to the consensus among his colleagues in the bar while not censuring his party for its decision to contest the elections. In the months to come, his role can be a very important one in keeping the issue of the restoration of the judges alive while he works to restore the important link between political parties and the bar along with the rest of civil society.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is also (more...)
 

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