Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pakistan: Rallies, Strikes And Protests Planned For "Iftikhar Day"

The pro-democracy movement in Pakistan may be beaten down but they certainly haven't given up.

The nation's lawyers, who have been leading an increasingly popular movement in support of true democracy and the rule of law, have been organizing nationwide protests, strikes and rallies for Thursday, marking 90 days since the imposition of Pakistan's national state of emergency.

The emergency, announced by then-General, still-President Pervez Musharraf, was supposed to allow him to crack down on terrorists, but he used his considerably enhanced powers to crack down on legitimate political opposition, including opposition party activists, human rights activists, lawyers and judges.

Musharraf sacked all the Supreme Court justices who didn't support his "inside coup", and placed them under house arrest. The day of protest is named in honor of the suddenly-former Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, seen in happier times in this photo.

When the emergency was declared, Pakistan's Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Chaudhry, was about to rule on the legitimacy of Musharraf's "re-election" (not to be confused with the upcoming parliamentary election).

Musharraf's "re-election" was in clear violation of two laws and arguably violated a third. The question before the Supreme Court was not one of interpreting the law, but of deciding whether to enforce it.

This is not exactly a constitutional argument in Pakistan but a cultural one, which falls under the rubric of "doctrine of necessity". In other words, some people say the security and stability of the nation can be more important than strict adherence to an arbitrary law. Others, of whom you are reading one at the moment, say the nation is more secure if its politicians are required to abide by the law.

And apparently the court had decided to rule against the still-President, then-General. We don't know for sure, because all the justices who would have made that ruling are still under house arrest.

This is not the first time Musharraf has tried to rid himself of the Chief Justice. The photo at the top of this page was taken when the previous episode -- which gave the pro-democracy movement an enormous boost -- was decided in favor of the Chief Justice. Musharraf had tried to get rid of Chaudhry on trumped-up, trivial charges that didn't stick; this time he got rid of them all for trying to uphold the rule of law.

The "emergency" has been declared "over", but the judges are still under house arrest, and the people of Pakistan -- led by their lawyers and journalists -- are getting ready to make some noise about it.

This is not a trivial matter; there's a good chance that people will get killed by "security" forces today.

Whose security? That's a very good question!