Lahore: The ferment in Pakistani politics is coming to the boil once again, as the nation’s lawyers resolved to undertake a “long march” to draw attention to the case of judges who were summarily sacked by President Pervez Musharraf last year. The chairman of the country’s Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan, in an exclusive interview with Mint, said the march is intended to draw the attention of the people to the unfulfilled promises of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Sharif).
Sharif’s party withdrew its ministers from the coalition with the PPP last week on this issue. “The government should have restored the judges on day one,” said Ahsan, adding that Musharraf had been “sacked by the people” on the day elections were held in Pakistan on 18 February. “He ought to resign,” he said.
Ahsan also said he would not be contesting a byelection from Rawalpindi until the judges are restored by the new government. The decision to undertake the long march is reminiscent of the 150-mile journey that the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhury took last July, from Lahore to Islamabad, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Chaudhury and against Musharraf. That journey, which should have ordinarily taken four hours, took 26 hours to complete. Thousands of people came out in support of the deposed chief justice, converting the lawyer’s cause to a people’s movement, the likes of which Pakistan hadn’t seen in decades.
Ahsan did say that “there were some indications” that the government would soon restore the judges, implying that the PPP, of which he is a member, would not be able to get the unprecedented vote it got in February if it did not act quickly on this matter.
Asked whether the lawyer’s movement will be transformed into a political party, once the judges are restored, Ahsan said he was content with first achieving the lawyers’ limited objective. “The main difference between India and Pakistan has been an independent judiciary,” said Ahsan. “For 60 years, we didn’t have one. Iftikhar Chaudhury gave to the people the dream of an independent judiciary.” He dismissed the notion that there would be two chief justices if Chaudhury was restored, along with the existing chief justice Abdul Hamid Dogar. “There are no two chief justices, there is only one, and he is Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhury,” Ahsan said