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What future for Pakistan's lawyers' movement?

Faisal Naseem Chaudhry [advocate, Lahore High Court, Lahore, Pakistan]: "All was not well on the morning of December 27, yet it was not so unwell either. Elections were to take place on 8th of January. Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and other politicians were on a move round-the-clock as part of their election campaign. The lawyers' boycott of judges who had taken oath's under General Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule was a working reality, with the exception of Lahore. The issue of restoration of the ousted superior court judges was sizzling and Bhutto was condemned for her fluctuating stance on the subject.

Everything changed at 6 PM that evening when one or more bullets killed her. Three days of official mourning witnessed excessive damage to public and private property resulting in huge losses to the national exchequer; just the other day Pakistan Railways demanded 6 billion rupees for a revamp. The Election Commission of Pakistan set February 18 as the new date for General Elections, and the deposed judges appeared to be part of history.

Only in the last couple of weeks has the lawyers' movement witnessed some progress. The Lahore District Bar Elections took place on 12 January. Hamid Khan's all-powerful "Professional Group" made a clean sweep. After a couple of days, the new Chief of Army Staff issued a strict official directive that he would not tolerate military's indulgence into politics and any officer inviting a politician to his office shall have to face serious consequences. News items also appeared that the Army Chief also decided to summon back officers working as deputies in in civilian organizations.

In the wake of all this, a strange decision of Pakistan Bar Council struck everyone. Through a resolution, it decided that the lawyers' fraternity would observe a complete strike of Superior and Subordinate Judiciary on every Thursday while on other working days only a token strike shall be observed from 10:30 am to 11:30 am. This is interesting because in the Superior Judiciary, the tea break for judges commences at 10:30 and ends at 11. The decision jolted not the community, but rather its discipline. In its wake, provincial and local lawyers bodies agitated and simply flouted the decision of the Pakistan Bar Council, asking it to go back to its former rule.

February 2008 is going to be a very important month. National Elections are to take place, but for me, the Lahore High Court Bar Association Elections (23 Feb) are of more importance. It was a shame when the Office Bearers of the Lahore District Bar Association came out against rallies amidst police baton charges and our leadership preferred to take shelter in the form of 'house arrest'. It was a shame when we were advised to 'protest' within the boundary of the High Court: "Do not go out; police will beat you. Let the thrashing of Civil Court Lawyers take place, you are superior. They appear before the subordinate judiciary, you appear before the Lordships." It was a shame in toto. If the District Bar Association was not there, the leadership of the Lahore High Court Bar Association in connivance and collaboration with the recently retired Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court would have almost destroyed the lawyers' movement in Lahore.

This is why I consider the forthcoming LHCBA elections of supreme importance. If the "Professional Group" does not succeed this time having Mr. Anwar Kamal as candidate for the position of President, we shall again be constrained to merely read in the newspapers as to what is going on at Peshawar High Court or Sindh High Court at Karachi. The office bearers of Lahore High Court Bar Association caused great damage to the lawyers' movement in fear of the former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court. Kudos go to the individual lawyers who were arrested, beaten, and later jailed under Anti-Terrorism charges. It was these individual members of the High Court Bar who said 'no' to the office bearers, refused to listen to their deodorized speeches, and decided to join their Civil Court colleagues in the streets. What a day it was when the former President of the Lahore District Bar (as the new President has been elected on Jan 12) virtually bullied the District Police Officer in the last week of December, "On November 5, we were not prepared. If you have guts, try to baton charge us today and then see how we are going to hammer you and your foot-constables". Police Officers did not baton charge afterwards since the then Chief Justice had not issued any clandestine orders in this regard. I am not aware of other provinces and Bar Associations other than the two based in Lahore, but so far as Lahore is concerned, the lawyers were beaten on March 13 and November 5 under the specific orders of the then Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, intimidated by the President of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. I do not have a video to support my arguments but these arguments are the talk of the town. Take a poll; you will get the same opinion.

Since November 3, 2007, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan), Mr. Ali Ahmad Kurd, and many others have been detained in their houses. They have not been allowed to come out of their houses lest 'public order' deteriorate. Where is the democratic United States in all this? Its leaders would prefer to have debates over the fate of Guantanamo detainees while one of ours - imprisoned by a government they support - is the Chief Justice of this country. The EU meanwhile is sending a Mission to 'observe' the upcoming National Elections, yet the EU does not seem to care about the fate of those who sacrificed their high offices for the security of our constitutional rights.

On top of all this, we also do not allow them to start their Chambers either. The deposed judges have been asked by the lawyers not to commence legal practice, as it would be taken as consent to the unlawful removal from office. Almost three months have passed with no other source of income and they are sitting home while restrained by us not to work as legal counsels.

I am apprehensive of the days after the National Elections. The infamous 'horse-trading' will begin in the newly elected Constituent Assemblies; the newspapers will have other spicy stories to publish; the new Prime Minister of Pakistan will address his 'brethren' promising the alleviation of their sufferings; I shall have new clients and new litigation in my pocket, and amidst the mesmerizing lights of Lahore we shall forget how a deposed Judge will pay the electricity bills to have lights in his house."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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