Pakistan: What the Tuq is going on?

Cartoon- Sab kuch Live hai by K.B. Abro. Listen to his blog in his voice http://bit.ly/13USxnO

Cartoon- Sab kuch Live hai by K.B. Abro. Listen to his blog in his voice http://bit.ly/13USxnO

Below, my take on what’s going on in Pakistan, written on Friday for the Sunday edition of The Telegraph, Kolkatta –  which published a slightly abridged version titled ‘Anna Hazare, anyone?

By Beena Sarwar

So this smooth-talking ‘moderate’ cleric called Tahir-ul Qadri (TUQ, as he has been dubbed on twitter), a dual Canadian-Pakistani national, announces a ‘million man’ long march to Islamabad, calling for changes to the electoral system just as the government’s five-year tenure is ending. He heads over to Pakistan’s capital on Jan 13 to lay siege to the elected government along with thousands of supporters. Continue reading

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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.

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.”

(END/2009)

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.

(END/2009)

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46083

Suicide Democrats

http://thenews.jang.com.pk/print1.asp?id=165518

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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