How General Zia has sabotaged lawyers´ movement from grave

Abbas Zaidi

When General Musharraf deposed Ifitikhar Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, on 9 March 2007, he did not realize there would be such an endless and widespread chain of protests all over the country. It was for the first time in Pakistan´s history that a judge had defied a general´s orders by deciding a few cases on merit, i.e., against a dictator´s wish and in the common man´s interest. It was the unprecedented power of the popular protest that led to the restoration of Justice Chaudhry four months later in July 2007. But General Musharraf did not accept the return of the Chief Justice, and on 3 November 2007 he imposed martial law in Pakistan and deposed Justice Chaudhry. It was a unique martial law in the political history of the world because it was directed only against the person of Justice Chaudhry. All the other institutions of Pakistan—e.g., the cabinet and the parliament—remained untouched. . . .

Although General Musharraf has been consigned to the gutter where his predecessors—General Zia being the wickedest and most notorious of the pack—Justice Chaudhry still has not been restored to his rightful office. The present democratically government is reluctant to restore him because it claims that he has become controversial by aligning himself with politicians, and hence his impartiality is suspect. Like millions of Pakistanis, I believe that the restoration of Justice Chaudhry is an act of faith to me. He, I believe, stands for freedom in Pakistan—freedom in the widest sense of the word. If he is not restored, judiciary in Pakistan will continue to remain subservient to generals, bureaucrats, and politicians. So when the leaders of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association announced that Justice Chaudhry would deliver a speech at a lawyers´ meeting in Rawalpindi on 3 November to mark the first anniversary of his sacking, I could not wait to hear the man who has been a hero, a savior indeed, to the people of Pakistan.

I cancelled all my engagements in order to sit in front of TV and watch the man who is no less than a prophet in these times. He began his speech by telling people how his refusal to kowtow to General Musharraf led to his sacking. Around fifteen minutes into his speech, there was a little disturbance behind him. He stopped briefly and looked behind. The disturbance continued for a couple of minutes and then two faces emerged and I heard myself say: “O, shit!” At that very moment I found myself agreeing to the government´s claim that the movement for the restoration of Ifitikhar Chaudhry was actually a front for the agenda of some time-serving politicians. Why?

For an answer you need to know the two faces I have mentioned above. The two faces were: Raja Zafar ul Haq and Justice (retired) Ghous Ali Shah. They are two top leaders of Nawaz Sharif´s Pakistan Muslim League (PML), the former being the Chairman of the PML. It not just their affiliation with the PML which is a red rag to anyone who believes in human rights, natural justice, and democracy, but their blatant and shameless alignment with General Zia who for eleven years (1977-88) played havoc with every civilian institution in Pakistan. Today if Pakistan is called world´s most dangerous country by the likes of Newsweek and Economist, the (dis)honor goes to General Zia and his team of army officers and politicians. Given the nature of this article, it is not possible to narrate the misdeeds of the Ziaists, but one can be reminded of one a coupe of important incidents: General Zia made Raja Zafar ul Haq Pakistan´s minister of information (Those days my friends and I as young, progressive students spending our nights in Old Anarkali´s Café Munir used to call it “the ministry of disinformation and falsehood”.). General Zia called him “the opening batsman of my team” and Raja Zafar ul Haq proudly owned and advertised the title. Imagine what respect “the opening batsman” of an extremely bloody and heinous martial law can have!

A word about Justice Shah. He was so beloved a protégé of Zia´s that the latter used his special exception-making powers to benefit him. In Pakistan a government official can enter politics only two years after they have retired (or quit) their job. But the dictator appointed Justice Shah the chief minister of the province of Sindh within twenty-four hours after he retired as the chief justice of the Sindh High Court. Did Justice Shah land in the prized job for his love of human rights? There have been countless things said about Justice Shah´s doings under the wings of martial law, and I leave it for another article that I will certainly write about him in future.

But there are many more characters than these two Ziaists who have afflicted the lawyers´ movement like a destructive virus. In July 2008 thousands of lawyers and general public gathered in Islamabad to voice their support for Justice Chaudhry. It was a peaceful, decent gathering in which the leaders of the lawyers made a very powerful case for the restoration of Justice Chaudhry. But when the last speaker took over, the entire event turned sour. The speaker was no other than Nawaz Sharif himself who unleashed a mouthful of demagoguery. Nawaz Sharif was the most cherished blue-eyed boy of General Zia. He was handpicked by a brigadier and given a ministry. Later General Zia made him Punjab´s chief minister. One of the memorable displays of Nawaz Sharif´s respect for democracy came when he cheered General Zia for dissolving Pakistan´s elected parliament in May 1988. During Nawaz Sharif´s stint as Pakistan´s prime minister the Supreme Court was invaded by his party-men forcing the judges to flee. Pakistanis have certainly not forgotten that the attack took place because Justice Sajjad Ali, the then Chief Justice, had summoned Nawaz Sharif for contempt of court, and it seemed likely to many people and commentators that he would be charged. A few hours after the Supreme Court invasion, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appeared on TV and spoke to the benefit of everyone´s ear that the people of Pakistan had elected him to “serve” them, and not to make rounds to a court.

If you take a look at the lawyers´ rallies, the most visible presence is of those fundamentalist religious parties who were carefully nurtured and empowered by General Zia. The most significant of them is Jamat-e-Islami, whose support of Zia´s barbaric misrule was matchless. Jamat-e-Islami was the greatest beneficiary of Zia´s martial law and was given key ministries by him. For example, Jamat´s Professor Khursheed who never tires of harping on the will of the people was Pakistan´s Deputy Chairman Planning under Zia, the highest civilian post. One classic example of Jamat-e-Islami´s traditional hypocrisy and duplicity can be cited here for everyone´s benefit: In 2002 it was this very party which, along with other religious parties, voted General Musharraf into presidency for five years. This vote was not an ordinary feat: it allowed General Musharraf to continue to be Pakistan´s president and the chief of the army staff at the same time, a rare landmark in the history of democracy. And this very Jamat-e-Islami is “protesting” General Musharraf´s “illegal”, as the Jamat-e-Islami leaders dub it, sacking. The Jamat-e-Islami leaders must be laughing all the way during the protest procession on the stupidity and amnesia of those who have allowed them to be part of the lawyers´ movement.

More examples can be given, but the point is: the lawyers´ movement has been hijacked by those politicians whose very appearance brings extremely painful memories of a time remembered for its barbarities, murders, and total disregard for human rights. These politicians have never been able to form government through fair elections because the people of Pakistan have always rejected them. Benazir Bhutto called them “Zia´s remnants”. Another Zia remnant made his presence felt on 3 November 2008 not through his presence, but through the placards that his supports were carrying in front of Justice Chaudhry´s house. The placard said: “The Act of 3 November Not Acceptable: General Hamid Gul”. General Gul amply showed his support and respect for democracy when in 1988, as a serving general and the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), he spent millions of dollars on forming a political alliance of times servers, lightweights, nobodies, and carpetbaggers (actually all of them Zia´s remnants) to counter Benazir Bhutto´s People´s Party because he did not want her party to sweep the 1988 election. To his credit, he frankly and proudly owns his misdeed. Another rare distinction that General Gul has is that only days before her assassination, Benazir went on record saying that General Gul was one of the “Zia remnants” trying to kill her. Recently, he has been officially nominated as one of the three suspects in her assassination.

Many observers have claimed that some of the lawyers have taken a lot of money from politicians, especially Nawaz Sharif, and allowed them to take over their movement. Barrister Ahmed Raza Kasuri is also of the same opinion. I have no comment to make because I do not have any inside information. My own feeling is that the lawyers have been sincere, persistent, and brave throughout their movement for the restoration of Justice Chaudhry. However, it is surprising how this sharp-minded legal community has allowed itself to be used by Zia´s remnants whose pasts have nothing to prove their respect for justice and rule of law.

Abbas Zaidi is from Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural and political eipcenter. His fiction and non-fiction have featured, inter alia, in New York Press, Exquisite Corpse, New Partisan, The Salisbury Review, The Vocabula Review, CounterPunch, and The New Internationalist. He holds an MA in English literature from Lahore and an MLitt in linguistics from Glasgow.