After March 9

Daily: The Statesman
Date: 17.03.08

March 9, 2007, left an indelible mark in the history of Pakistan when the Chief Justice of
Pakistan, Iftikhar Hussian Chaudhry, was forced to resign and was subjected to humiliating
conditions by the military regime on his refusal. Subsequently, he was arrested, confined to
his house, and roughed up in the streets of Islamabad.

For the current Pakistani generation, the day would be remembered as a societal
awakening day. The society woke up from its deep slumber and kicked off an agitation: a
movement for restoration of the chief judge. In empirical terms, March 9 to July 20, 2007,
can be marked as the first phase of the movement. Since November 3, 2007, has started its
second phase.

Right in the opening days of the movement, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain underscored the
inter-institutional nature of the conflict: it was a tug of war between the military and the
judiciary. On July 20, the deposed judge was restored by the decision of the Supreme
Court. Afterwards, the then government expected him to toe line of the government, as the
latter did not hinder his restoration. To their utter dismay, the judge, however, started
following the Constitution and the law in letter and spirit. Consequently, he with his like-
minded were arrested, deposed, and detained. It happened on November 3 when the
martial law was imposed in the name of emergency by the then General Pervaiz Musharraf.
On December 15, 2007, when Musharraf became the president, he lifted the emergency.
Pakistan has yet to recover from the ill-effects of those 42 days. What these days devoured
were the sixty judges loved and revered by the people.

With the power of hindsight, it can be said that the politicians belonging to the former prime
minister office had taken refuge in the official powers of the then President General Pervaiz
Musharraf and prompted him to take action on their behalf. Musharraf got embroiled in the
situation because he owned his actions – constitutional or not – against the then chief
judge. Indubitably, Musharraf forgot that his office acted more than a mere post-office in
sending a judicial reference to the Supreme Court against the chief judge, in addition to
humiliating him physically. The cost of transgressing those limits is still being paid by
Musharraf. Secondly, the issue of accountability of the top judge had been transformed into
assertion of the institution of the military on the judiciary. The bar and bench reacted to that
dominance and the price has been paid by the pro-Musharraf politicians in the general
elections on February 18, 2008.

The decline in the respect-graph of the military that set in on March 9, 2007, is yet to come
to a halt. The efforts to cease the steady descend divulged an autocratic face of Musharraf.
The concepts emanating from the famous doctrine ‘enlightened moderation’ were
dispatched to the dust bin. The media was the second victim after the judiciary to bear the
brunt of the inversion of Musharraf’s doctrine of moderation and enlightenment. Prima
facie, the media was declared guilty of showing images of the wounded and dead bodies
but the reality was that the media was considered a party to the inter-institutional conflict. Its
gagging was meant to sever the link between the judiciary and the masses to keep the
latter uninformed and unmoved. The third important actor was the eminent lawyers the fiery
speeches and the bold stance of whom had moved the whole nation to stand with the
judiciary in its hour of crisis. The prominent spoke persons of the lawyers’ movement were
put under house arrest to dampen down the movement.

In the post-November 3 phase of the movement, the lawyers and the human right activists
were beaten ruthlessly at the hands of the police actuating a sort of civil divide where the
police would not be considered a part of the civil society but a brutal force to suppress the
fundamental human freedom and deny the civil liberties. This factor brought the process of
civilization of the police force back to square one. Hardly had the police recovered from the
societal hatred and insolence in the post-Zia-ul-Haq era when it again plunged into the
same depths of condemnation. In a way, there appeared another fault line of mutual
disrespect in society (between the police and the masses) which would hound harmony and
cohesiveness of the society for several coming years. The government had to resort to
those Nazi tactics after having silenced the media – to keep several matters unreported and
unvoiced. Nonetheless, viciousness could be called the hallmark of the State’s reaction to
that second phase of the movement.

November 3, 2007, brought alongside it not only the next spell of democratic erosion but
also the wave of civil awakening. February 18, 2008, showed the inclination of society which
was quintessentially against the Musharraf regime – in whatsoever form it existed. Even in
this post-election period, the rural fringes of the country cannot be found quiescent, after
delivering their anti-Musharraf electoral verdict. Further, the urban areas are still volatile
and uncompromising on any formula short of independence of the judiciary unless it is
personified through restoration of the deposed and detained judges.

Late Benazir Bhutto had felt thrust of that concern of people and occasionally echoed her
voice in favour of the pre-November 3 judiciary, though this point was harming her stakes
(in reference to the NRO) in the political system. Asif Ali Zardari is no exception to feel that
push of the civil society. Nawaz Sharif just struck at the heart of the feelings of the general
public and managed his electoral comeback. Bhurban declaration is a reality now; neither
Zardari nor Nawaz can renegade from the declaration. Within one month of resumption of
the parliamentary affairs, they would release and restore the deposed and detained judges.
Failure to do that may spur the third phase of the movement of the lawyers for restoration
of the judiciary backed by the civil society.  

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