IAR on NRO ruling

I.A. Rehman, one of the clearest, sanest voices in Pakistan analyses the NRO ruling in his op-ed today in Dawn, ‘Pause, sirs, and ponder

Extract: “…the issue before the Supreme Court was not an amendment to the constitution that would have attracted the basic features theory. The issue before it was an ordinary presidential ordinance. And for laws and ordinances that conflict with the constitution clear remedies are available.
“By invoking Article 227 in the present case the Supreme Court seems to have put Islamic injunctions in command of the whole constitution. Quite a few lawyers argue that this amounts to overruling the court’s judgments in the Hakim Khan (1992) and Kaneez Fatima (1993) cases.
“…The people of Pakistan have every right to ask whether Ziaul Haq’s agenda has been revived.”

Justice Sabih’s legacy

Karachi, April 28:

Justice Sabih: Upholder of human rights

Justice Sabih: Upholder of human rights

The newspapers on the PIA flight back from New Delhi on April 20 reported the shocking news about Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed’s death. Various thoughts jostled with sadness at his untimely departure. I remembered him as a lawyer, one of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s founder members in 1986 and HRCP’s first Vice Chairperson for Sindh. My first term on the HRCP Council coincided with his last as he resigned in 1997, after being appointed as a judge of the Sindh High Court to the jubilation of human rights activists. Colleagues, activists and professionals revered him as a lawyer and later as a brilliant judge for his consistently compassionate and principled stands.

Twenty years ago, as a lawyer, he drafted a groundbreaking legislation regarding organ donations. His colleague and fellow advocate Syed Iqbal Haider twice presented the draft law as a private members’ bill before the Senate. The powerful vested interests of the commercial transplantation lobby kept getting it shelved. Eventually, years of hard work and lobbying by dedicated visionaries like Dr Adeebul Hasan Rizvi and his colleagues got the bill through as a presidential ordinance in October 2007. The commercial transplantation lobby appealed against it on the grounds that it was against Islam. On April 18, 2009, after extensive deliberations, the Federal Shariat Court ruled that organ donations are compatible with Islam, and outlawed commercial transplantations. That was also the day that Justice Sabih breathed his last.

His judgments strengthened human rights principles and gave relief to the aggrieved. His ruling of 1997 ordering the payment of monetary compensation to a detenu in a habeas corpus petition made judicial history in Pakistan. As chief justice of the Sindh High Court he encouraged out-of-the-box thinking, like allowing a judge of the Sindh High Court to take up appeals in interior Sindh as an experiment in 2007. Sitting at the Sukkur High Court, the judge (Justice Rehmat Shah Jafri) found that people had been in prison for 25-30 years on average. Refusing adjournments, he dealt with 300 appeals and disposed of 70 per cent of the murder cases in two months.

Women’s rights organisations always found Justice Sabih sympathetic. In one instance, he got the hearings of two rape cases transferred to Karachi from interior Sindh where the rape survivors felt threatened by the accused.

He was among the judges who refused to take oath under Musharraf’s PCO following the Emergency declaration of Nov 3, 2007. His steadfastness was an example to his brother judges. At one of the judge’s homes in Karachi, where civil society activists presented flowers to the dissenting judges, Justice Sabihuddin succinctly explained why they should be supported even if they had taken oath under an earlier PCO.

The military twice displaced civil power after the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution and took extra-constitutional judicial action through a PCO that required judges to take fresh oath: 1981 (under General Zia) and 2000 (under General Musharraf). After Musharraf seized power (Oct 1999) several judges refused to take oath under the PCO of 2000. The Supreme Court gave the military regime de facto recognition on condition that the judicial organ of the state remained uninterrupted. It also declared that independence of the judiciary was part of the basic structure of the Constitution, which the parliament could not amend. The self-styled chief executive was given power to amend, but not alter, the basic features of the Constitution. Also, extra-constitutional measures would be permissible only when the Constitution did not provide a remedy and the action taken was proportionate to the emergency situation.

In November 2007, an unprecedented 59 out of nearly 94 judges in the higher judiciary refused to take oath under the PCO. They stuck to their guns until after the elections. Over the past year, most ‘deposed’ judges returned to the courts, some like Justice Sabih in elevated positions. Many among civil society who had been active in the movement for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry saw this as a great betrayal.

One of them was on the PIA flight from New Delhi with me, anguished at Justice Sabih’s death. We talked about the lawyers’ movement and the divergent strands within civil society.

An early division within ‘civil society’ was over the general elections. Dominant opinion in discussions over the Internet and on television talk shows advocated boycotting forthcoming polls, with no answer to the question ‘and then what?’ (One Islamabad-based activist told me that his organisation planned to stop people from voting, and he himself planned to pour ink into ballot boxes on election day. If he wanted to boycott the polls that was his right, I responded, but he had no right to spoil other people’s votes.)

Another dominant civil society stand was that the new government should straightaway restore the judges through executive order. The government’s waffling on the issue notwithstanding, those who thought that the judges’ restoration should not be the be-all and end-all of the movement and that it should be debated and decided in parliament were dismissed as government apologists.

When many judges went back into the fold, this dominant civil society opinion saw it as a betrayal of the cause for the restoration of the chief justice, even terming them as ‘PCO judges’. Given the track records of people like Justice Sabihuddin an attempt to understand their move would have been in order, even if people disagreed.

So great was the divide that some virtually ostracised them socially. “I last met him at the Boat Club some months ago,” said my grieving activist friend on the flight, who had known the late judge for over forty years. “He asked me to come and see him but I was too angry. He asked me a couple of times again through someone to see him … I didn’t. I will always regret that.”

When he finally did go, it was too late. Justice Sabihuddin was unconscious in an intensive care unit. I could feel his pain at not having made his peace in time. Many also felt similar ‘too late’ anguish when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, having pilloried and castigated her for making a ‘deal’ with a military dictator and then contesting elections.

“I have learnt a lesson from this. I will never take such a rigid position again,” he added.

Maybe somewhere, somehow, Justice Sabihuddin understands. Certainly he would forgive. This can be but of small comfort to those who wish they had given him a hearing, as he gave so many others.

Compilation of responses, Laal, and the GPO 150

A compilation of responses to my last two articles on the `long march’ from
Hassan Gardezi, Chris Sinha, Zahid F. Ebrahim, Farooq Tariq, Fauzia Minallah,
Asad Jamal, Zaheer A. Kidvai.
Plus link to a music video by Laal to Faiz’s poetry that I’ve been wanting to
post for some time, and an eyewitness account by Ammar Ali Jan of how
demonstrators in Lahore stood their ground against the police (where the initial
resistance was made by PTI and JI workers according to various sources,
including Imran right at the end). It was such defiance that probably led to the
tide turning and pressurising the Presidency to accept the reinstatement demand.
Certainly a positive aspect of this entire movement was that it cut across
class, gender and political divides as I and many others have observed before.
My point in the Long View article was only to highlight a concern about the
politics of some of those engaged in this movement. I hope this is something
that can be discussed and debated without resorting to mud-slinging and
Beena Sarwar

Re: Five Days that Changed Pakistan

From Hassan Gardezi, Canada:
I do not know Beena, from whom your very last comment comes from. But I must say that the only credit I can give Zardari for his “retreat” is that he practically paralysed Pakistan’s ailing economy by commandeering transport trucks and containers with merchandise worth millions of rupees in order to build a protective wall around his seat of governance in Islamabad. He should be charged for this latest crime among other violations of human rights.
And allow me also to say that our progressive writers who were ready to bury the lawyers movement as an anti-democratic single person issue, should now hang their heads in shame.

[Dear Prof. Gardezi,
– Asad Jamal is an advocate of the Lahore High Court and has been active in the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the CJ.
– The commandeering of the containers and other vehicles did indeed cause huge
losses to the economy. Zardari and his cronies can certainly be held accountable
for their over the top response. By the same token, other elements can
– With all due respect, I don’t think that questioning the methods and timing
employed by the lawyers’ movement and the motivations of some of the elements
involved comes under the ambit of burying it as an anti-democratic single person

From Chris Sinha, educationist, UK:
Thank you for this very informative piece, which focuses on the internal, popular and democratic dynamics of Pakistan in contrast to the entirely US/UK “security” oriented semi-reporting that we in Britain have received. (Not that I deny either the international significance of these events, or the depth of the problems confronting democrats in Pakistan, but the news media here seem to view Pakistan as primarily a problem to be solved by Great Powers, rather than an agent in what we can at the very least hope will be progress to liberation and peace).

From Zahid F. Ebrahim, Advocate Supreme Court, Karachi:
My take `Did Zardari get the last laugh?’ – The News Op-Ed, March 17, 2009

[Zahid raises some pertinent points. Interestingly, his article on the bottom left of one page was juxtaposed by Farahnaz Ispahani’s article on the top right of the opposite page, `Jinnah & mob politics’. As a PPP MNA, she is obviously partisan, but her quote from the Stratfor commentary is still valid: Pakistan is becoming “increasingly polarised between idealists and realists…. It is ironic that a movement to establish rule of law in a country that has largely been under authoritarian military dominance for most of its existence could end up undermining the state itself.” (“Pakistan: Beyond a Showdown”)

Re: Long March – A Long View

Farooq Tariq, Spokesperson, Labour Party Pakistan, Lahore, to IPS:
Dear Editors,

I disagree with the analysis of our dear friend Beena Sarwar. The reinstatement of the deposed chief justice is not just a question of “one person”. It is a question of opposing the measures taken by a military dictator General Musharaf.

Pakistan Peoples Party is no more a left wing force, so no question of a right wing takes over by this long march. PPP and Muslim League Nawaz both are right wing political parties. A very significant part of civil society organisations
and all the Left wing political parties including Labour Party Pakistan are demanding the reinstatement of the top judges and are taking part in the long march.

The political parties that boycotted the February general elections played an important role in exerting pressure on Musharaf dictatorship for fair elections. President Zardari has become more like a civilian dictatorship. Banning GEO
television, arresting political activists in hundreds, closing all the roads to Islamabad and resorting to all sort of dictatorial measures is no tasks of civilian presidents.

I personally was jailed several times by Musharaf dictatorship and was in underground several times. I am again in underground to avoid an arrest for the only crime to support the lawyers’ movement.

Farooq Tariq
Spokesperson Labour Party Pakistan

[Farooq Tariq is a committed rights activist and we have worked together in many pro-democracy struggles in Pakistan. However, our readings of the current situation differ significantly, not in the end goal of the judiciary’s restoration but the manner in which it is being done. Soon after the elections of Feb 2008, Farooq wrote saying
an article that the boycott had contributed to the transition from military to civilian government. I agree that they did contribute to the pressure against Musharraf, but if the boycott had been completely successful, it is unlikely that transition to civilian rule would have taken place at all.

He is correct in pointing out that left wing political parties are supporting the long march – but within that support there is a divergence as not everyone within those parties agrees with the method of protest that brought the country to the brink of chaos, ably aided by the government’s blunders and overreaction.

Farooq Tariq correctly accuses Zardari of behaving like a civilian dictator – they have goofed up badly in deploying force to stop the long march – but I wrote the piece before the showdown began and Geo was banned (for a few hours) and the information minister’s resignation. Even if PML-N and PPP are both ‘right-wing’ according to Farooq Tariq, it does not take away from the fact that the long march has the full support of the right-wing players whom I identified in my article – forces which tend to justify and sympathise with the Taliban seeing them as an ‘anti-imperialist’ force. There are many people who want to discuss the fear of a right-wing takeover or dominance rather than sweeping it under the carpet. Doing so in no way implies an acceptance of Zardari and co as ‘left-wing’ – something I never
suggested in this or any other article.]

Fauzia Minallah from Islamabad, sent out the following email to my editors at IPS besides circulating it on various lists (from where it got circulated further, thank you Fauzia):

In response to Beena Sarwar’s article ‘ Long March- A Long View’

Dear Beena, I regret the aspersions and doubts appearing in your article for the IPS about human rightist activist Tahira Abdullah’s left wing credentials. She has been the most committed activist in the lawyers’ movement. It is ironic when liberal, progressive secular activists like yourself join the chorus of RIGHT WING taking over, and it is shocking when you write the following:

`There is also irony in progressive, secular activists like Abdullah joining hands with the emerging right-wing coalition to achieve a shared goal – the restoration of Chaudhry Ifikhar’.

KINDLY STOP DISTORTING FACTS. It is not about THE PERSON OF CJ Iftikhar Chaudhary. It is about the symbolism he embodies. It is to reverse the legitimacy given to the illegal action of dictator Musharraf on 3, November 2007. It is against the continuation of the same ‘Prostitution of Constitution’, and continuation of the same messy policies of the Establishment.

So who is LEFT WING in Pakistan ? This PPP and ANP lot who:
Joined hands with ultra Islamist Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, gave his JUI(F) federal ministries
To get Fazl-ur-Rehman’s support, re-opened the extremist Madrassah Fareediya
Made jirga, Karo Kari, burying women alive notorious Bijrani and Zehri federal ministers
Bartered away Swat, Malakand, part of Hazara, Dir and Chitral to the Taliban
Enforced Shariah through Nizam-i- Adl.

The Right Wing was there when the lawyers movement started in 2007, so what was the leftist PPP doing supporting the lawyers then and why were you a part of it?
You know very well the lawyers have been supported not JUST by the PML(N) and the MMA parties, but also LARGELY by an assorted array of progressive, left-oriented political organizations and civil society groups, including the Anjuman Mazarain Pakistan, Awami Party, Awami Jamhuri Party, Awami Jamhuri Ittehad, Communist Party, Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party, Labour Party Pakistan, Insani Huqooq Ittehad, Khudai Khidmatgaar, People’s Rights Movement, Joint Action Committee for Citizens Rights, Women’s Action Forum , Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan, Aurat Foundation, ASR, AGHS, Christian Study Centre, Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation, PIPFPD, PODA, Sungi Development Foundation, Strengthening Participatory Organisation, Simorgh, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Shirkat Gah and most of all the miorities leader J.Salik.

Tahira has always stood for progressive values and principles. If she is there in the movement, she is fully aware of and committed to the principles involved. In this she is not alone; she is in good company with progressive and leftist
stalwarts like Kishwar Naheed, Asma Jehangir, Shehnaz Ahmad, Amina Piracha (a die-hard PPP member) and hosts of others.

This article presents an intentional distorted view of the reality of the lawyers’ movement. It would be sad if such distorted views were to undermine the lawyers’ movement at this critical juncture.And for what? Zardari led ‘PPP?’
Where Benazir’s closest allies Naheed Khan and Safdar Abbassi are actively taking part in the Long March, Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman have resigned, Aitezaz Ahsan and Enwar Baig have been side lined from the party.

The greatest Left Wing Coalition is un-elected Zardari-Salman Taseer- Farooq Naek sharing the same bed with Maulana Faz lu Rehman????

[Dear Fauzia

You have a right to your opinion but I take exception to your accusation that I cast any doubts or aspirations on Tahira Abdullah’s commitment or credentials. Neither have I anywhere suggested that Zardari and co represent the ‘left’ wing, or what’s left of it, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Since you’ve seen fit to copy your response to various addresses at IPS, I’m doing the same. I’m also copying a response to your reaction below that was sent on to me too – I wonder if you’ll circulate that to all those you sent your
email out to.


———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Zaheer Alam Kidvai
Date: Sun, Mar 15, 2009 at 7:27 PM
Subject: Re: In response to Beena Sarwar’s article : Long March – A Long View
To: Fauzia Minallah

Dear Ms Minallah

Since you asked for your piece to be circulated, it reached me, too.

Tahira is a dear friend and I’d take offense to anything wrongly said about her.
You’ve certainly gone a large step further and taken offense to something that
was not said about her. Beena’s sentence highlights a real irony – a word she
does clearly use at the beginning of the sentence which, btw, follows several
lines that show respect for Tahira’s principles. To jog your memory, here they

`The irony is illustrated by the recent three-hour detention of the firebrand
women’s rights and political activist, Tahira Abdullah, who has been mobilising
the lawyers’ movement from her home in Islamabad.

`She faced police batons and tear gas in the Zia and Musharraf eras. A day
before the long march began, a police contingent arrived at her house and
virtually broke down her kitchen door.

`However, her arrest attracted media attention, embarrassing the government into
quickly ordering her release. An undeterred Abdullah immediately resumed
mobilising for the agitation.

`”It is sad and ironic that the PPP government has come to this,” she told IPS.
“They said it was preventive detention. They can’t catch people like (Taliban
leaders) Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah but they send police after me, a
very ordinary person.”‘

This ironic situation is one we face in several forms everyday in a confused
political landscape, internationally and nationally. We all gathered, marched,
protested – around the world – against the Americans when they attacked Iraq in
the reign of Bush the First and that of Bush the Second. All! Jamaatis, PPP,
PML-N, Muslims, Christians. Hindus. Fundos. Atheists. Communists. Just because
the Right Wing (and the much worse PML-N) chooses to support a cause, those who
feel the cause per se to be right need not stay away. Tahira’s wish to support
the restoration of Choudhry for the reasons you state may be totally at odds
with that of PML-N’s opportunity-riddled desire to do the same, but what does
one do: Should Tahira & Co display banners that state ‘I am with Choudhry but
not with Nawaz’ or some such thing? That’d be comical.

All Beena thinks is that the situation is ironic, That’s all. IMHO it is not
more ironic than for a pacifist like me to occasionally (secretly) hope – driven
by the insanity around us – that someone would blow the terrorists up before
they do the same to us. I really am too old to believe that we could talk them
out of their warped beliefs.

Of course, by saying ‘joining hands’ if Beena meant to imply that Tahira was
doing so beyond the issue at hand and changing her political stance, I’d be
upset for I have seen no evidence. However, I don’t think that was the case.


From asad jamal asadjamal2006@gmail.com
Mon, Mar 16, 2009
Subject Re: In response to Beena Sarwar’s article : Long March – A Long View

Dear Fauzia,

First of all CONGRATULATIONS! The restoration, on the one hand, is a success of
the civil society members who have struggled hard in these two years; on the
other, this shows the resilience of democracy, and the ability of the present
rulers to submit to the peoples’ demand, even if belatedly. I think it would be
unfortuante if my fellow citizens who like to be part of the progressive civil
society, do not give Zardari credit for this retreat, howsoever belated it may
have come.

I think Beena in her article only pointed out the irony which indeed there was
and actually raised concerns of so many, like myself, who really feared a taking
over of the ‘situation’ by the right wing forces. History is full of such
incodents in not so distant past, Iran for instance has been cited by many as
one such example. What happened in 1977 when the progressive forces sitting in
opposition joined hands with Nizam-i-Mustafa Tehreek to derail the democratic
process is still fresh in our memories. Communist Party’s support for creation
of Pakistan and Muslim League’s parochial approach is another such chapter from
history which we in Pakistan are yet to discuss at length.

I think the difference of opinion is on the use of tactics. You may see the deal
with extremists in Swat as a submission to by the ANP-PPP government, but people
like Afrasiab Khattak and many others with unquestionable credentials may have
different view, who see it as mere tactic.

I don’t think Beena by any stretch of imagination cast aspersions on Tahira’s
credentials. I for instance was among the first ones to get Tahira’s message of
arrest around 6.30 am on March 9. and did whatever I could to at least register
my protest. While I was all for the march and protest, I never agreed with her
and other friends, to the call for ‘Dharna’, precisely for the fear which so
many of us found so real.

Equally disagreeable is the way how Zardari has been targetted and singled out
for all the mess. I have always found it confusing that while on the one hand my
civil society friends, save a few like Athar sb I believe, kept demanding for
the restoration, on the other they kept tagetting NRO and Asif Ali Zardari. I
think PPP is and will remain a major democratic force in Pakistan for a
considerable time to come. Targetting Zardari, as former Senator Farhatullah
Babar, said yesterday, can only be seen an effort to weaken the PPP. Such
tactics have not helped and will not.

You have pointed out Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman (and Aitzaz Ahsan whose case
is difefrent). I will add Farhatullah Babar to the list, all of who have reacted
gracefully without going public about the difference of opinion within the
party. This will strengthen the party and raise their own stature in the
estimation of the people. PPP, you will agree, is a force we need to strengthen
and further DEMOCRATISE rather than antagonise. and let’s, instead of getting
involved in arguments over difference of opinion on tactics, try to build upon
the gains we have made in the last two years. Let’s leave it to the future
historian who, in the ultimate analysis, may find people like me and Beena to
have been proved wrong on the issue of threat of dharna and coallition with
right wing forces. This is time to share fruits of success.

warmest regards,

asad jamal

Over to Laal, that wonderful musical band of young people active in the
Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (their first song was Habib Jalib’s Mein Ne Uss
Se Yeh Kaha –
The video referred to May 12, 2007 –

Umeed-e-Sahar (Hope for the Dawn) – Poet: Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Last but not least, Ammar Ali Jan in Lahore, posted to the CRDP list on March

Dear Imran,

I happened to be part of that “GPO 150” when the police started using tear-gas.
This is a picture of us throwing stones at the police
s_photos_wl/r469008846.jpg/ (Im in a red shirt on the right)

We had left Zaman park where Aitzaz had been placed under house arrest. Lahore
gave the look of a deserted ghost town in the morning with the Mall road
completely blocked. I was with the Labour party pakistan, Student Action
Committee and civil society members. We decided to walk our way towards the High
court in pairs so that the police fails to notice us. Some of us succeeded while
others, like nauman Qaiser and jalees Hazir were arrested at the checkpoints.

I have been to many protests in the past but I have never seen anything like the
passion visible infront of the High Court. There was a consensus that if the
Lahore High Court falls, the movement will fizzle out. We also had feryal gauhar
and Hina jilani with us in the crowd and they also thought that resistance
infront of the High Court is the key for a victory. As the police started
shelling tear-gas indiscriminately, many started falling unconscious. All of us
panicked and started fleeing the scene to evade arrests. A man who must in his
70s, started yelling to the fleeing crowd (which included me as I could no
longer breath) that this was not a time to run but to fight. Eventually, the
baba ji fainted as well but he encouraged all of us to come back and continue
the fight.

We resisted the police for over two hours, pushing them back many a times.
Express News reported that 250 to 300 shells had been fired at the protestors.
Express news reporter Rabia Mehmood and AAG channel correspondent Mani almost
fainted and had to be taken away from the scene. Many were vomiting because of
chemicals in the tear-gas which were worse than anything I have witnessed.
However, this brought the best out of the Pakistani nation. Some people were
carrying salt and water for those getting injured in the fighting. Others were
helping carrying people to the diagnostic center in the High Court or onto Edhi
ambulances. When the police would charge protestors on one side, they would be
pelted by stones from the other side. This was the key to this street battle as
the police was being hit by stones from all sides which is why they could not
takeover the High Court. It didnt matter which political party or group one
beloned to. Everyone was looking out for each other.

By this time, alot of lawyers, political activists and civil society members had
gathered at the gates and those of us who had been there since almost 12 decided
to leave as we felt de-hydrated and coult not breathe properly. When we went in
the courtyard where all the activists had gathered (including Justice Tariq
Mehmood, Advocate Anwar kamal, Hina Jila, Tehmina Daultana etc), we had no idea
what this battle at the GPO really meant. We were just looking for water and a
place to sit. Infact, I was a little dissapointed that the numbers infront of
the GPO had not been big and that the Long March could be a failure.

It is here that we recieved the news that this battle had gripped the entire
country’s imagination. The news channels were constantly talking about the
police high-handedness and the resistance by many activists. I even recieved a
call from a friend in States who said that she had read about the crazy fighting
at the Lahore High Court. The tide was deifnitely turning.

After this, the people were in complete cotrol of the city. Thousands joined
Nawaz Sharif’s caravan as he defied detention orders to lead the procession from
his house in Model Town. The High Court courtyard went ecstatic when we heard
the news of the resignations of the IG,DIG, SP, DCO and deputy attorney general
of pakistan. Crowds cheered wildly as some of these gentlemen joined us at the
High Court. The most memorable part of the evening for me was to see Aitzaz
Ahsan defiantly enter the High Court building despite orders for his house
arrest and the police officers stood in line to salute him. This meant a
complete victory for the movement and from their onwards, it was just a matter
of time before the government would be forced to accept our demands.

I feel that the way Taseer’s goons were defeated at the GPO showed the weakness
of this state apparatus. It represented the best of pakistan. On one side, it
represented despair, state brutality and police repression. On the other, it
reflected hope, resistance, the passions and the dreams of many Pakistanis. We
had won not because of the generosity of the country’s leadership, but because
of the countless sacrifices of lawyers and activists for the past 2 years with
15th march 2009 becoming the grand finale in Lahore. Despite the success, our
post-colonial state is still full of problems and oppression and there will
inevitably be more resistance. In all of the future struggles, we shall remember
and take with us the spirit of March 15.

In solidarity,
Ammar Ali Jan

P.S. I had always been embarassed about bthe fact that Punjabis have shown the
least amount of resistance to the establishment. Our brothers and sisters from
the smaller provinces have been at the forefront of the anti-establishment
struggle and have rightly accused the Punjabi leadership of making compromises.
I hope our performance in Lahore and generally during the lawyers movement will
also help enhance the image of Punjabis as people who can take a stand and fight
the tyranny of an oppressor even if he is Punjabi (Salman Taseer).

From: reflectiveimran@gmail.com
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2009 08:02:58 +0500
Subject: [CRDP] GPO-150, PTI and JI, Asma Jilani and Liaqat Baloch

Regardomg my email on the heroic GPO 150, Qaisar, who was there ( he has been
there for the whole struggle, and gave me courage to do my own little bit) has
just conveyed that the initial resistance there to police efforts to vacate GPO
chowk was done by PTI and JI workers.
Salute to PTI and JI. Qazi Sahib’s struggle has been heroic too. Shows when the
cause is true, Liaqat Baloch and Asma Jilani can stand shoulder to shoulder and


The marchers prevailed despite heavy police contingents. Photo: Rahat Dar

The marchers prevailed despite heavy police contingents. Photo: Rahat Dar

Five days that changed Pakistan

Analysis by Beena Sarwar

KARACHI, Mar 16 (IPS) – A late night meeting between Pakistan’s army chief, President and Prime Minister led to the dramatic announcement in the wee hours of Monday morning that Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry would be restored as Chief Justice.

The announcement, made by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani, has been widely welcomed for having broken the political impasse that was threatening to plunge the country into chaos and possible army intervention.

For the past few days, hectic efforts had been underway domestically and at the international level to break the impasse, including by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British foreign minister David Miliband.

Former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf initially suspended Choudhry from office in March 2007, sparking off a nation-wide lawyers’ movement joined by civil society and political activists. When a Supreme Court order restored Choudhry to office, Musharraf imposed Emergency rule on Nov 3, 2007 that many saw as imposition of martial law.

Superior court judges who refused to take oath under the Emergency orders were sent packing. For the first time in the country’s history, the majority of judges refused to take this oath, leading to hopes that the days of the judiciary’s connivance with the establishment were over.

The elections of Feb 18, 2008 brought in a democratically elected government. But lawyers were unhappy with the way it dealt with the judges’ issue.

The government restored the judges who took a new oath under the constitution.

Choudhry and a few other judges refused on the grounds that this legitimised Musharraf’s illegal executive order that had sent them packing in the first place and that the restoration should take place through another executive order.

Leaders of the lawyers’ movement announced a ‘long march’ starting on Mar.12 to converge on the capital Islamabad on Mar. 16 for a ‘dharna’ or sit-in until the Chief Justice was restored.

As the long march kicked off, the beleaguered government appeared to be at odds with itself. Prime Minister Gillani asserted that the marchers would be allowed to converge on Islamabad even as his Interior Minister Rehman Malik, known to be close to President Asif Ali Zardari, took measures to prevent this from happening.

The resulting scenes of police beating and arresting people, in many cases from their houses, drew comparison to Musharraf’s last months in power, particularly during the Emergency of 2007.

In his early morning announcement, Gillani said that Choudhry would be restored to office “according to my government’s promise” on Mar. 21 when the incumbent Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, a Zardari appointee, is due to retire.

He confirmed the decision reported a day earlier, that his government would file a review petition in the Supreme Court against the disqualification from elected office of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif.

A controversial court decision of Feb 25 that dislodged the younger Sharif from office of chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province had led to the Sharifs coming out with no holds barred against the man they saw as behind the judgement, President Zardari.

Many felt the disqualification judgement was timed to remove the Sharifs from power ahead of the ‘long march’. Several city mayors loyal to the PPP whom the Sharifs had removed from office were brought back to aid the federal government in its attempts to block the long march.

Police arrested hundreds of activists across the country and commandeered buses and containers to barricade roads and prevent the protestors from marching – except in Balochistan province where the provincial government remained neutral and allowed the marchers to demonstrate.

However, people defied police barricades and tear gas to converge in large numbers at key points like the Lahore High Court.

Matters climaxed as Nawaz Sharif defied a detention order confining him to his estate at Raiwind near Lahore, and headed a motorcade towards the city centre where hundreds of charged up activists had already converged.

As the momentum gathered the police in some places avoided confrontation and watched from the sidelines, making no attempt to stop the marchers. In other places, protestors armed with sticks attacked the buses blocking the roads, smashing windshields and denting carriages.

Television footage showed a policeman fleeing from a group of protestors only to be caught by others and beaten up even as some demonstrators tried to prevent the mob action.

“The public is taking their revenge,” commented one viewer in Peshawar, glued like many others to his television set since early morning.

Some activists occupied the grand old colonial building of the General Post Office in Lahore, on the roof of which they planted a Jamat-e-Islami flag next to the Pakistan flag. Some hurled red bricks at policemen, severely injuring some who had to be rushed to hospital.

The government had already drawn sharp criticism for holding Islamabad-based women’s rights activist Tahira Abdullah in preventive detention on the day the long march started.

At 4 am on Mar. 15, Peshawar police without search or arrest warrants raided the home of prominent lawyer Musarrat Hilali, who is also vice-chairperson of the respected Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). As she tried to escape, she fell, fracturing her leg in three places.

“I did not want to be arrested,” Hilali told IPS from her bed in Peshawar. According to law, police cannot detain a woman between sunset and sunrise. Hilali said that the provincial Awami National Party (ANP) government had denied sending the police and that the orders had come from the federal level.

“After I fell and was injured, the police left, but they placed me under house arrest,” she said, recalling her ordeal.

Her house arrest is now over following Gillani’s speech, in which he announced that those arrested or placed under house arrest over the past few days would be immediately released. He also announced the lifting of prohibitory orders that barred public gatherings.

Gillani’s televised speech led to jubilation in city streets across Pakistan. Lawyers and activists danced to drum beats and distributed sweets as Sharif called off the long march.

However, some sound a word of caution.

Zahid Abdullah, programme manager, Transparency and Right to Information Programme, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, Pakistan suggests that Chaudhry now needs to ponder over “whether he should be joining the judiciary or remain a symbol of independent judiciary by working from the outside for a truly independent judiciary at its all levels.”

“He has won the moral victory through his tenacity and that of the lawyers. His personal restoration is not an end itself but a means to an end. If he joins the judiciary, he is likely to be bogged down by the practicalities and the compulsions of the judiciary as it stands today,” he wrote in an email circular.

“It would be better if he stays outside and helps political forces by exerting his pressure and influence to suggest and implement the modalities of putting in place independent judges in the courts and carrying out judicial reforms.”

Others are suspicious of the government’s move. Jamat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed expressed doubts about the move, complaining of not having been taking into confidence about it. “Who knows what pressures were placed on the Chief Justice and what he has been made to agree to,” he told a television anchor.

“Duped again by Mr Zee,” text-messaged a Karachi-based lawyer caustically, referring to Zardari whom he had been hoping the crisis would dislodge.

However, advocate Asad Jamal in Lahore sees the restoration as a success of civil society that has struggled for this cause for the past two years. “It shows the resilience of democracy and the ability of the present rulers to submit to the people’s demand, even if belatedly,” he told IPS.

“I think it would be unfortunate if my fellow citizens, who like to be part of progressive civil society, do not give Zardari credit for this retreat, howsoever belatedly it may have come.”


POLITICS-PAKISTAN: Long March – A Long View

POLITICS-PAKISTAN: Long March – A Long View

Analysis by Beena Sarwar

Lawyers and police clash in Lahore - photo by Rahat Dar

Lawyers and police clash in Lahore - photo by Rahat Dar

KARACHI, Mar 12 (IPS) – Barely a year after being elected, the Pakistan government faces a political storm involving a street agitation spearheaded by lawyers and opposition political parties allied with religious parties.

Lurking on the sidelines is an army unused to civilian command even as religious militants create havoc around the country.

None of this is new to Pakistan but many find it all the more painful given the hopes built up by last year’s general elections. On Feb 18, 2009, Pakistani voters overwhelmingly supported non-religious parties and rejected those that had been propped up by the army.

The electorate’s rejection of the religious parties and the joining hands of the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and her former rival Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) raised expectations of an end to political confrontation and religion-based politics – and the army moving away from politics.

These expectations followed decades of misrule and exploitation of religion for political purposes. The Pakistani establishment, at Washington’s behest, strengthened armed militancy, exploiting religious sentiments to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan during the 1980s. In the process they created ‘Jihad International’, as the late scholar Dr Eqbal Ahmad termed it.

This may now be the biggest threat facing Pakistan – and the world – since the attack on the World Trade Center on Sep. 11 2001. Since then Washington has pushed Islamabad to fight the very forces of militant Islam that both together had fostered and strengthened.

Resultantly, this country has, as Pakistanis point out, suffered the most from militant attacks.

In this situation, political instability is distracting at best and dangerous at worst. The ‘long march’ demanding the reinstatement of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry, spearheaded by the legal fraternity and sections of civil society, has ready allies among the right-wing political opposition.

This includes Sharif’s PML-N and the Jamaat-e-Islami, a mainstream religious party sympathetic to militant Islam, as well as others sympathetic to the Taliban, like ex-chief Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and anti-India hawk Gen. (retd.) Hamid Gul, retired bureaucrat Roedad Khan who brutally quashed political opposition during the Zia years, and cricket hero-turned politician Imran Khan, chief of the Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice).

All these forces boycotted the 2008 polls, except Sharif who rescinded his boycott decision after Bhutto convinced him that elections were the only way forward.

Long-festering tensions between the PPP and PML-N came to a head with a Supreme Court ruling of Feb 25 barring Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from holding elected office. Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari is widely believed to be behind this controversial ruling.

The disgruntled Sharifs, already pushing to restore Chief Justice Choudhry, have flung themselves wholeheartedly into the long march – a move that observers do not see as entirely altruistic since their stated aims include effecting regime change.

“Sharif’s attempts to paint himself as a radical, grassroots activist are at odds with his political origins,” commented former lawyer and Australia-based analyst Mustafa Qadri, writing about the opportunity Pakistan’s politicians of all hues have wasted in their “refusal to look beyond personal power games and provincialism to develop the nation’s still embryonic democracy”.

The Sharifs gained prominence as businessmen patronised by General Zia -ul-Haq who was behind Pakistan’s “transformation from majority-Muslim nation to Islamic state with more conservative religious seminaries per capita than any other country in the world,” as Qadri put it (‘Long march to nowhere’, The Guardian, Mar 10, 2009).

The current imbroglio comes on the heels of loaded statements by Gen. (retd) Pervez Musharraf who during a visit to India last week, gave several talks and interviews in which he hinted at a possible political comeback.

Curiously Musharraf, who stepped down as president in August 2008, urged New Delhi to stop ‘bashing’ the Pakistan army and the shadowy ISI since, according to him, they were the best defence against the growth of the Taliban and militancy in Pakistan.

President Zardari has invited comparisons to Musharraf because of his government’s use of police force and mass arrests to prevent the long march, as Musharraf did after suspending Choudhry in March 2007 and imposing Emergency rule in Nov 2007.

The irony is illustrated by the recent three-hour detention of the firebrand women’s rights and political activist, Tahira Abdullah, who has been mobilising the lawyers’ movement from her home in Islamabad.

She faced police batons and tear gas in the Zia and Musharraf eras. A day before the long march began, a police contingent arrived at her house and virtually broke down her kitchen door.

However, her arrest attracted media attention, embarrassing the government into quickly ordering her release. An undeterred Abdullah immediately resumed mobilising for the agitation.

“It is sad and ironic that the PPP government has come to this,” she told IPS. “They said it was preventive detention. They can’t catch people like (Taliban leaders) Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah but they send police after me, a very ordinary person.”

There is also irony in progressive, secular activists like Abdullah joining hands with the emerging right-wing coalition to achieve a shared goal, the restoration of Choudhry.

Civil society activists privately admit that otherwise their numbers are too small to reach the critical mass needed to effect political change.

“There are only a handful of us,” one of them told IPS. “And there are no more than 100,000 lawyers in the country. So we have to join hands with political forces who agree with us on this matter even if we don’t agree on other matters. We know they are using us, but we are also using them.”

Observers like the political economist and former student activist S.M. Naseem fear that this kind of mutual ‘using’ could push Pakistan further towards right-wing forces.

Disappointed by the performance of the government as well as the opposition, he holds that the lawyers’ movement has missed the opportunity of creating a new polity in the country. “They should have broadened the agenda to create a new political system,” he told IPS. “Two years for the restoration of one person (Choudhry), however, honest and bold, is a bit too much.”

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani has said that he cannot, in all conscience, oppose the long march. “We have also participated in street agitations and long marches,” he said. “How can we stop anyone else from exercising their democratic right to do so?”

This stand appears to pit him against President Zardari, holding an office strengthened by past military dictators. The President’s powers include being able to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve government – as several presidents before him have done. This is unlikely to happen now. For Zardari to take such a step would mean dismissing his own government.

Having recently obtained a majority in the Senate, the PPP can conceivably push through the constitutional amendments it proposed in May 2008 for which a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and the Senate is required. These amendments include the removal of the 17th amendment that allows the President to dismiss government.

Moves towards reconciliation between the PPP and the PML-N continue behind the scenes, even as the long march kicks off with lawyers and political activists from various cities heading towards Islamabad to converge by Mar. 6 for a dharna (or sit-in) ‘until the Chief Justice is restored’.

Observers fear a breakout of violence even though the long march leaders have promised to keep matters peaceful.



More on women – and Rahman Baba

Sangota Girls Public School, Swat, destroyed by militants. Photo by Kamran Arif

Sangota Girls Public School, Swat, destroyed by militants. Photo by Kamran Arif

Forgot to include the following in my posting focusing on women

AMMU JOSEPH’s article ‘Our freedom is at stake’ is linked to the issues Kalpana Sharma identified in her article on the attacks women in India are facing, which as I wrote, looks like an Indian version of the Vice & Virtue dept of the Taliban that we are facing here in Pakistan. Ammu’s Bangalore Mirror article of Feb 12 (but still very relevant) at


And now to RAHMAN BABA: As the political confrontation heats up in Pakistan ahead of the lawyers’ long march, joined by the Sharifs who were disqualified from politics recently, before all this reaches a stage where it overtakes all other discourse (which it already seems to have, to an extent), wanted to post a few items related to the disturbing attack on Rahman Baba’s shrine near Peshawar on March 5. The attack caused widespread outrage and practically every paper took it up. The incident took place just two days after the March 3 attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore that led to a knee-jerk reaction among many Pakistanis blaming India for the attack.

Countering the culture of blame-counter blame, Siddharth Varadarajan, Associate Editor The Hindu, wrote on March 4 that finding ways to “encourage Pakistani cooperation and, more generally, to stabilise that country, are the most important challenges facing Indian diplomacy”. See his article ‘Lahore attack shows urgency of joint action on terror’ – Forget the conspiracies, the threat to Pakistan and India is the same – http://tinyurl.com/au8xhy

I thought he was spot on, on the whole and had a comment to add to his statement that “Cricket is the most visible icon of secular Pakistan, and perhaps the only competitor militant Islam faces in its struggle to tame the wayward Pakistani mind.”

I wrote: “There is another, even more deep-rooted competitor militant Islam faces – the widespread adherence to Sufi Islam and values, superstition, taweez dhaga (tying threads, getting amulets) etc. I fear (hope hope hope I am wrong) a major attack on any urs (birthday celebrations of Sufi saints) taking place at any of the major shrines any time soon…”

The following day, militants bombed the shrine of the 17th century Sufi poet Rahman Baba. An AP report in the Independent commented that the attack highlighted “the gulf between hard-line Muslims and many in the region who follow a traditional, mystical brand of Islam… A professor at Peshawar University told a local TV station that in many Pashtun homes, Baba’s poems are kept alongside the Islamic holy book, the Quran.” http://tinyurl.com/b45yo5

The caretaker of the shrine said he had got a letter three days before the attack warning against the perpetration of this “shrine culture” and objecting to the fact that women were coming to pray at the shrine. Militants used remote control bombs that destroyed the outer wall of the Mausoleum and partially damaged the building one month ahead of Baba’s urs, scheduled for April 5.

According to Pashtun Post <www.pashtunpost.com/>, Yousaf Ali Dilsoz, President of Rahman Baba Adabi Jirga says that Rahman Baba is the icon of Pashtuns spirituality and their love for peace and tolerance. “Saidu Baba, a revered saint from Swat valley, is known to have said that if the Pashtuns were ever asked to pray on a book other than the Koran, they would undoubtedly go for Rahman Baba’s work.”

Pashtun Post contains translations of some of Baba’s verses – http://tinyurl.com/c6neqy

Some excerpts:

Sow flowers so your surroundings become a garden
Don’t sow thorns; for they will prick your feet

If you shoot arrows at others,
Know that the same arrow will come back to hit you.

Humans are all one body,
Whoever tortures another, wounds himself.


Suicide Democrats


Op-ed, The News Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Suicide Democrats

Raza Rumi

I am appalled by the recent events that have yet again stirred instability and uncertainty into Pakistani politics. Those of us who voted in last year’s elections expected that the political leaders and Pakistan’s political elites would learn a lesson from our unfortunate history.

We also expected the lawyers’ movement, headed by men of extraordinary calibre, to display sagacity and vision and contribute to the consolidation of a democratic culture. However, what we witnessed was a complete rejection of the Feb 18 polls by the leading lights of the movement, and a few other naïve political actors. When the electorate voted in large numbers and returned the two mainstream political parties to the parliament, the lawyers, instead of accepting that they were wrong to boycott elections, insisted on their narrow and bourgeois interpretation of the term “rule of law.”

Sadly, law, rights and constitutionalism are personalised through the idolisation of the deposed chief justice, as if Pakistan were still a mediaeval kingdom, where the bad King (Musharraf) had to be overthrown, and the good Qazi (Justice Iftikhar) had to be “restored” and vested with all moral, political, executive, military and judicial powers.

The rightwing media has further whipped this game and brought the popular and well-meaning Sharif in direct confrontation with the federal government on this single issue. President Zardari, whom we all hoped had learned his lessons from jail, endless court trials and exile, would act with vision and leadership. Similarly, the Supreme Court, led by Justice Dogar, might have gone an extra mile to prove its neutrality. Alas, how wrong we were!

It is amazing that the long marches, threats of violence and agitation, and questionable imposition of the governor’s rule in the largest province of the country are taking place at a time when the Taliban are capturing one district after another. The media and civil society, instead of bringing down the creaky edifice of democracy, should be pressurising political leaders to act with maturity and not wrangle.

Given the hysteria of the last few days, since the disqualification of the Sharif brothers, the media is portraying the situation as one with no solution. Enemies of democracy, the traditional forces that have always sabotaged civilian rule, are smiling at this imbroglio. There is no paucity of solutions: there are legal and constitutional means whereby the legislature can amend the Constitution on the eligibility of politicians to contest elections and hold offices. A review petition can always be filed that could look at the questions of law pertaining to this matter. Similarly, the promulgation of another NRO is not beyond the realm of the possible. Politics is about bargains and adjustments to strengthen the representative system, rather than bringing it down at every inconvenient juncture.

The PPP must take the initiative to avoid further fissures in the tenuous federation called Pakistan. The current posturing and gung-ho behaviour of the PPP’s Punjab leaders need to be arrested by the central leadership. The PML-N and, in particular, its Quaid, Mian Nawaz Sharif, should also rise above the rhetoric of the 1990s and display flexibility that is essential to a functional democracy. The PML-N has little support in the three smaller provinces of Pakistan and its current rhetoric and thundering against President Zardari, who represents the smaller federating units, is not a good omen. A group of political activists torched the memorial of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi, and there have been strong reactions across the country, especially in Sindh. Why blame the bomb blasts at funerals and mosques when such is the prevalent culture of protest.

If the deposed chief justice has to be restored then the matter must be brought before the parliament and solved through constitutional means. One cannot play the politics of constitutionalism and find solutions in executive orders. If Mr Sharif will lead an agitation with the lawyers who are now placed on the other side of the democratic divide, he will not only engineer the fall of the central government, and the PPP, but will also sign the deed of death for the future of democratic politics in Pakistan.

Over fifty deposed judges have taken fresh oaths under the policy of the sitting government. When the incumbent judiciary is trampled and defamed, the detractors forget that it includes all those judges who resisted Musharraf’s emergency. Once an individual is restored to the top slot, will it become legitimate overnight or the incumbent judges would be fired for being part of the “naqli” judiciary?

The civic activism since 2007 was a harbinger of change in Pakistan. The lawyers’ movement is de-legitimising democracy and political parties (including the largest and perhaps the only national party). One may ask whose purpose is being served here. Is it not what the leaders of the Taliban and other extremist groups maintain about democracy by calling it “kufr”?

The establishment and its proxies must not win this game. At present it seems that both the mainstream political parties and their obstinate leaders are bound to create a situation similar to 1958, 1977 and 1999. However, this time the cost of unrest and confrontation will be detrimental to our future. The vicious cycle, emanating from our inability to handle political squabbles, will this time give way to erosion of democratic space won today with sacrifices, toils and struggles.

The writer blogs at razarumi.com and edits two e-zines: Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama. Email: razarumi@gmail.com

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