Shorter version of this appeared in The News on October 30th, 2008.
Victory of Ali Ahmed Kurd as President of Supreme Court Bar Association is a historic milestone in the history of Pakistan and the history of the Lawyers’ movement for rule of law and accountability of the country. This is not just a victory for Ali Ahmed Kurd but for all Pakistanis who are still actively involved in the restoration of the judiciary to Nov 2nd position. These include journalists, students, traders, political party workers, doctors, businessmen and other members of the civil society. This is a triumph for all those who had given their lives to the cause on 12th May, 9th April and in the various attacks either on lawyers’ gatherings. In particular this is a victory for the late soul of Advocate Imdad Ali Awan who passed away while driving the Chief Justice’s car in Karachi. Even with so many sacrifices and being stretched to 18 months, the movement is alive and popular support thriving.
The landslide victory is important for many reasons. Before the elections all anti-movement forces had joined hands to interfere with the election process notwithstanding their past hostility. Musharraf’s Attorney General, Malik Qayyum, was given a standing ovation by PPP sponsored People’s Lawyers Forum. Ironically this is the same Malik Qayyum whose father had ordered Bhutto’s hanging. Qayyum had been taped colluding with a former Prime Minister to fix punishment for Benazir Bhutto and Zardari. As Musharraf’s AG, Qayyum had constantly been engaged in trying to convict Zardari and Benazir for many years. Just before the elections Qayyum’s tape was released by Human Rights Watch where he confirmed to a friend that there would be rigging in the Feb 18th Elections. These are just some of the anti-PPP activities Malik Qayyum has been engaged in the past many years. Yet when the time came to solicit votes, the PLF solicited even their worst enemies.
In the buildup of the elections the Khosa-Naek-Qayyum group had been actively engaged in compelling lawyers with sticks and carrots to vote for their candidate. Money poured from the Law Ministry to Pakistan Bar Council and its sympathizers to help them buy voters and manipulate the elections. There were many functions in this regard held in Karachi, Islamabad and particularly in Lahore where voters were fine dined, promised lucrative government jobs and services for their votes and also threatened with dire consequences if they voted otherwise. News reports have confirmed that Farooq Naek spent weekends at Abdul Hameed Dogar’s and other de facto judges’ residences to plead for votes for the PLF candidate. These and many other of their undemocratic activities have been exposed before the people of Pakistan.
Yet when the time came to vote an overwhelming majority of lawyers refused to be swayed from their determination and cause. This is only a reflection of a vast majority of Pakistanis -86 % according to an IRI survey – who want the Supreme Court back to its Nov 2nd position. While our ill informed politicians may claim its not an issue of the people, polls show otherwise. 83 % of Pakistanis from across the country believe this is an issue that is important to them and are severely offended when the politicians they elected refuse to take it up. The issue is still alive in the hearts and minds of the people and is here to stay.
Why has this been so? What makes Pakistanis so loyal to this movement when it has neither had funding from any agency nor will it bring out immediate personal gains for the participants? Why have people remained actively involved in it for 18 months now and against all forms of opposition? Pakistanis understand the importance of rule of law and economic growth which as an academically proven and time tested link. In the Economist of May 13th, Daniel Kaufmann, head of the World Bank’s World Governance Institute, analyzes many studies which compare GDP per person and the rule of law. He finds that the better a government upholds the rule of law, the more likely its people are to be richer. Countless other studies have not only established this link but also have mentioned it as a fundamental precondition for economic growth.
For average Pakistanis, however, it is experience more than scholarly research � both democratic and authoritarian regimes have been marred by rampant corruption, nepotism, extra-judicial murders and bending of rules to favor who is in power. On 3rd of November, patriotic citizens of this country stood up to put an end to all this once and for all. To date their struggle has mustered many achievements. It is the movement that forced Musharraf to accept that arbitrary exile of the political leadership was unconstitutional; the movement which led to the election win for the opposition; and the movement which led to resignation of Musharraf. The pressure sustained by the movement also forced the government to restore some of the judges. While the manner adopted by the government was deplorable, it goes without saying that this is the first time in the history of Pakistan that judges have been reinstated after they refused to take oath under a PCO. These achievements do not distract the supporters of the movement who understand that the restoration of the judiciary to Nov 2nd position is an uncompromisable precondition for establishing rule of law and independence of the judiciary in this country.
When a lawyer of the All India Muslim League raised the cry for Pakistan in 1940, Muslims of the region responded with thunderous support. Seven years later Jinnah had achieved the impossible. It is only fitting that six decades later the struggle to take back Pakistan is spearheaded by the people who share the same profession of Jinnah and the same love for the country and its people.
The movement is here to stay. Have no doubts about it.