A Liberal, Secular and Democratic Movement

Lawyers bask in Pakistan victory
Matt Wade

AITZAZ Ahsan, a leader of the Pakistan lawyers’ movement, sat in his sprawling home in Lahore basking in victory. Plates of traditional sweets were passed as well-wishers lined up to congratulate him.

The two-year struggle by lawyers to get Pakistan’s sacked chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, reinstated had been achieved with a show of strength that caught everyone by surprise.

Pakistan reinstates sacked judge
Pakistan’s government has agreed to restore the country’s top judge Nawaz Sharif, diffusing a potentially violent political crisis.

The lawyers were joined by opposition parties, activists and tens of thousands of ordinary citizens on the streets of Lahore on Sunday afternoon. As the massive procession headed for the capital, Islamabad, President Asif Ali Zardari capitulated and agreed to restore the judiciary dismissed by former president Pervez Musharraf in 2007.

Celebrating on Monday night, Ahsan said Pakistan had experienced a catharsis. “This has been absolutely momentous because it is a shared and common experience of the people,” he said. “Everyone has a little bit of ownership of this victory.”

Many not normally involved in politics are also celebrating Chaudhry’s reinstatement.

Abid Sattar, a young waiter, joined the protest at the Lahore court complex on Sunday and is proud of what it achieved. “Here is where we restored justice in Pakistan,” he said yesterday.

Sadly, the optimism that followed the protest was challenged when a suicide bomber killed 14 and wounded 18 on Monday in Rawalpindi.

Politicians in Islamabad are left pondering the political re-alignments caused by the lawyers’ movement. Many in Zardari’s own Pakistan People’s Party are believed to be disillusioned by his handling of the crisis, which analysts say has damaged the already unpopular coalition Government.

In contrast, the political clout of opposition leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been dramatically underscored and he is well placed to capitalise politically.

“I knew this lawyers’ movement was a flame that would keep burning and at some moment it would create a huge fire and that is exactly what happened,” said Ahsan.

He had harsh words for Western countries that failed to support the movement as it campaigned to rehabilitate democratic institutions.

“The Americans, the British and the Australians were always on the wrong side – they were with Musharraf and then Zardari.”

Ahsan said the movement was a unique force for democracy in the Islamic world. “The West has turned a blind eye to the fact that the lawyers’ movement is actually the only movement in the Islamic world that is liberal, secular, democratic, non-violent, hugely popular and, above all plural,” he said.

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