Will the lawyers succeed? —Ijaz Hussain

The four individuals – Bush, Musharraf, Kayani and Zardari – who are key to resolving the judicial crisis, are not disposed towards doing so because of their own interests

The other day the All Pakistan Lawyers Representative Conference (APLRC) threw an ultimatum to the ruling coalition to restore the deposed judges to their pre-November 3 position by August 14, failing which it threatened to intensify the struggle through a series of radical measures, including sit-ins outside Parliament, blocking of courtrooms and launching of a civil disobedience movement. It also warned the parties continuing to stay in the coalition after August 14 that they would be viewed by the legal community as condoning the proclamation of the November 3 emergency.

How do we explain the legal community’s upping the ante in the wake of the failed Long March? And what are the prospects of the new strategy succeeding?

To begin with, a word about why the APLRC rather than the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has given the ultimatum. The answer lies in the fact that the former, being a more representative body than the latter, is the appropriate forum to take such momentous decisions.

Besides, there is a split within the PBC between those who do not want the deposed judges to be restored and are using the gimmick of the constitutional package for that purpose and those who believe in the continuation of the lawyers’ movement and trust the street more than the parliament to achieve their objective. The former belong to the ruling PPP whereas the latter are fired more by the ideals of constitutionalism and rule of law than by party affiliations. Since the latter are not certain of their clear majority in the PBC and are thus afraid of being voted out, they have decided to take the matter to the lawyers’ conference where they enjoy majority support.

The legal community seems to have upped the ante as a reaction to the botched Long March. Consider the following: When the march got under way it generated huge expectations as there were spontaneous outpourings of the masses in each town and city through which the marchers passed. There was a general euphoria that the lawyers would not leave Islamabad without getting the deposed judges restored.

However, the denouement was nothing short of an anti-climax as the leader of the movement, Aitzaz Ahsan, at point zero, instead of challenging the government simply asked the marchers to go home. There was no sit-in before Parliament; no attempt to cross the red zone; no brush with the lathi-charging police, which were the only means that could make our rulers listen. The whole affair was such a damp squib that one of the lawyer leaders Hamid Khan had to apologise to the people of Pakistan for what he described as a “blunder”.

Many held Aitzaz Ahsan personally responsible for the fiasco. And they were justified to do so if we go by what was reportedly agreed upon before the start of the March. According to a very reliable source, the leadership had agreed to stage a sit-in for a day and then at the end of it to collectively decide the next course of action. Aitzaz Ahsan however failed to follow the instructions and unilaterally decided to ask the people gathered there to disperse. It was he who again reportedly counselled Sharif to desist from asking people to stage a sit-in.

Was he overcome by the loyalty to his parent party, the ruling PPP? It is anybody’s guess. However, irrespective of his motives, following his exhortation to the people to disperse, slogans were raised accusing him of being Zardari’s man. In this backdrop, it is undeniable that the movement’s leadership in general and Aitzaz Ahsan in particular must have been under great pressure to make amends for that “lapse” by adopting an aggressive strategy.

Otherwise too, the organisers appear to be chastened by the fiasco that was the Long March. They must have realised that the objective of restoration of the deposed judges cannot be achieved through kid-glove methods like peaceful demonstrations and simple speeches; and that for that purpose they would have to devise radical measures such as sit-ins and civil disobedience.

Besides, images of lawyers’ bleeding heads and lathi-charging police smashing the offices of Geo TV — which provided support to the lawyers’ movement last year and probably contributed to the CJ’s eventual restoration — must have given the organisers inspiration to formulate the new strategy.

Now, to answer the million-dollar question of whether or not the legal community will succeed, we need to examine the past performance of the lawyers’ movement. We note that in its short struggle for constitutionalism and rule of law, it has tasted success on two occasions. The first time was when Musharraf decided to bribe judges of the higher judiciary with a three years increase in their retirement age. The legal community opposed the move and put up a stiff resistance against it. It ultimately succeeded in getting the provision incorporating the proposed increase deleted from the 17th Amendment that the Musharraf regime had negotiated with the MMA. The second time the legal community achieved success was on July 20, 2007, when it got Iftikhar Chaudhry restored to his status as CJP.

The above cases show that the legal community’s success wasn’t built solely on the agitation which it undertook; and that there were other factors which contributed critically to it. For example, as far as the increase in the retirement age was concerned, Musharraf dropped the matter because it was less important for him as compared to other points on which he was seeking concessions from the MMA for the 17th Amendment.

As far as the restoration of Iftikhar Chaudhry as CJP is concerned, it certainly enjoyed absolute priority for Musharraf. However, the legal community succeeded in checkmating Musharraf because the matter was handled by a full bench of the Supreme Court, which decided in favour of Iftikhar Chaudhry.

It is doubtful that the legal community can get the deposed judges restored to the pre-November 3 position (minus the PCO judges) through simple sit-ins and civil disobedience. For that to happen, it absolutely needs outside help, which unfortunately is not available to it. The four individuals — Bush, Musharraf, Kayani and Zardari — who are key to resolving the judicial crisis, are not disposed towards doing so because of their own interests.

Hence the restoration of deposed judges will not take place till the cows come home. What the legal community can perhaps get is an absurd SC composed of 29 justices with powers that few judges would be willing to accept. Would the legal community and the deposed SC judges be prepared to stomach that? It does not appear to be the case, at least not at this point in time.

The writer is a former dean of social sciences at the Quaid-i-Azam University. He can be reached at hussain_ijaz@hotmail.com

Source: Daily Times, 30/7/2008


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