I feel disappointed the way the lawyers' movement for the reinstatement of 60 judges in Pakistan is petering out. Many lawyers are still in the field but their solidarity has been weakened. First, the then President Pervez Musharraf tried to break the movement. Now President Asif Ali Zardari is following suit.
That Zardari should be party to such a heinous conspiracy is unfortunate because the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) which he heads with his son is the organization that has given its blood and tears to restore democracy in the country.
I want to point out that if Pakistan can be proud of people's assertion since its formation, the lawyers' movement comes at the top. There was a stir in Sind some years ago for the state's autonomy. No doubt, it was patriotic, passionate in content. But it was confined to just one state.
In Baluchistan too there was an uprising, laced with violence which the Pervez Musarraf government deliberately provoked to black out the Balochi identity and to kill a respected leader like Bugti who was defiant even as the Baluchistan governor some 35 years ago when I met at Quetta during the rule of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
|Anti and pro-government lawyers scuffle at a local court during a protest in Multan on Thursday. Pakistani lawyers held protests in several cities demanding the government to reinstate judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. AFP
Both agitations in Sind and Baluchistan are praiseworthy. But they never touched the height which the lawyers' movement has. It transcended borders and acquired the character of an all-Pakistan, secular endeavour. Even fundamentalists who participated in it never brought their parochial politics to it. Nor has the lawyers' leadership allowed it.
It will be a tragedy if the movement fails in its objective because that may well be the failure of liberal forces all over the world, not only in Pakistan.
If I were to compare the movement with any other movement, I would do so with the national struggle before independence. Not many Muslims participated in it in the later years because by that time the demand for Pakistan had pushed everything else into the background. But the national struggle was selfless, a sort of saga of sacrifices. India, I believe, got rid of the British because of that struggle.
In the same way, the lawyers' movement evoked the spirit of idealism in Pakistan's civil society which like civil society in India is engrossed in its own comforts and careers. Those who are writing off the lawyers' movement are committing a mistake because the phoenix will one day rise from the ashes. The lawyers have ignited a spark to burn the hay of grievances against the Mushraff government or, for that matter, the military establishment.
The semblance of democracy which is visible in Pakistan today is because lawyers awakened the people to their right to freedom. It is true that Pakistan Bar Council Chairman Aitzaz Hasan took the initiative and infused life into the dead civil society. His sacrifices would be remembered by the country. But the role played by other lawyers has not been insignificant.
I have no doubt that Pakistan, whatever time it takes, will see the reinstatement of all the judges and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry who have already recorded their names in the annals of history because of the manner in which they stood up to the orders of jackboots. Along with their families, the judges were confined to solitary imprisonment for three months.
They have come a long way. Yet their destination is distant. The society inured to dictation will take time to assess its strength to defy. As it happens in the long-stretched movements, some persons fall along the way. A few judges have betrayed the cause and joined their original positions by taking yet another oath. Had they shown stamina and commitment - I know it is difficult to survive without regular income - Asif Ali Zardari could not have reneged on the Murree Declaration in which he had avowed reinstatement of all the 60 judges. Their unity would have forced him to accept the lawyers' demand and made the judiciary in Pakistan independent for all times to come.
The movement has met with a reversal. But it is going to succeed because the success or the failure of the lawyers who despite the division created in the ranks is keeping the flame alive.
Civil society in Pakistan must realise that the eyes of the entire democratic world are fixed on it. Will it allow a civil government to defeat the determination of lawyers? Nawaz Sharif, now Zardari's rival, has tried his best to make Zardari abide by the promise to reinstate all the judges, including the Chief Justice. Sharif knows that but for the lawyers' movement, his Muslim League would not have ruled Punjab, nor would it have had such a presence in the National Assembly as it has today. The people's rule would not have returned to Pakistan.
But Zardari, it seems, has personal scores to settle with Sharif on one hand and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on the other. It is a tragedy that the democratic forces have got divided even before they have consolidated.
Pakistan has had military rule in one shape or the other for most of years since its inception in August 1947. The lawyers' movement has demolished the ramparts from behind which the men in khaki have ruled ruthlessly in the past 50 years. This alone is a message to people in Pakistan that their vote has not gone waste and that the ballot box is secure in the future.
Sharif should not confine himself to issuing statements, however strong. His Muslim League has no option except to reignite the enthusiasm in the lawyers' community and contribute to the freedom movement which is still going on.
At stake is the future of democracy in Pakistan. There can be no bigger challenge to the nation than the success of lawyers. The exasperated people can go back to the military or forced to do so.
Every citizen must display a degree of vigilance and willingness to sacrifice. Without the awareness of what is right and a desire to act according to what is right there may be no realization of what is wrong.
India nearly lost democracy in 1975 when Ms Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister, imposed emergency. The nation asserted itself to remove her Congress party lock, stock and barrel. But we lost a lot in the process. The dividing line between right and wrong, moral and immoral which has ceased to exist since then has not been visible yet. The only thing which we have been able to do is that we have deepened democracy. Once the lawyers' movement succeeds, such things will come back.
(The writer is a veteran Indian journalist and former diplomat. He was also one-time member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament.)