With the father of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, himself a lawyer, the legal profession has a certain resonance in Pakistan that it does not have elsewhere. But the lawyers’ movement which led the opposition to President Pervez Musharraf last year had slipped off the front pages with the death of Benazir Bhutto. This week, a number of people have pushed the issue forward again.
In a column in the Daily Times, called Who is Afraid of Aitzaz Ahsan, former foreign secretary Tanvir Ahmed Kahn argues that the history of the British empire in India showed that imprisoning the leaders of protest movements never helped.
Ahsan, pictured right, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, is under house arrest after being detained when Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November. He wrote about his detention late last year in a column in The New York Times.
The Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong said this week it was giving an award to Ahsan and his predecessor, Muneer Malik, in recognition of their fight for an independent judiciary. British lawyers and human rights groups also called for the release and reinstatement of lawyers and judges hit by the constitutional upheaval in Pakistan, according to the Times in London.
At a news conference in London, Musharraf said it was wrong to believe that the judicial crisis in Pakistan, in which judges and lawyers have been dismissed or detained, was a human rights issue. It was, he said, “a legal issue that was converted into a political issue and then further converted into a crisis for the nation.”
So how big a role will the lawyers’ movement play both before and after the February 18 election?