Looking back at the Lawyers’ Movement -by Ayesha Siddiqa

The protests, rallies and demonstrations by the legal community from 2007 to 2009 took everyone in and outside Pakistan by surprise. People were impressed with the perseverance of the lawyer’s from around the country in the face of a military dictator and in forcing a political government to ensure that the chief justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was restored. However, it is worth asking whether the movement brought some fundamental change in the state and society and the relationship between the two?

The above question cannot be answered without retrospectively, though briefly, looking at this event in history that got labeled as a movement. There are scholars who did not consider this as a movement even then. It did not qualify as a movement, perhaps, in comparison to what Pakistan witnessed during the late 1960s when the under-privileged people from all walks of life came together to protest Ayub Khan’s military dictatorship. The movement of the 1960s included the farm labor, factory worker, students, and people like the small-time chaiwala who were willing to sacrifice their meager earnings for long-term political benefits.

On the other hand, the political action spearheaded by the legal community, in which others such as the media, civil society and ex-servicemen and some other groups took part, had an urban and middle class character. A lot of them such as some members of the ex-servicemen association had immense dislike for Musharraf (but not necessarily the military). This was then an event where personal interests and biases got compounded with a cause.

The real dispossessed Pakistani did not come out on the streets for two reasons. First, the lawyer’s protest did not until the very end establish any link between security of the judiciary and empowerment of the legal community, and socioeconomic uplift in the country. The economic explanation for a free and fair judiciary was a point raised in Aitzaz Ahsan’s speech at the end of the long march but it had the impact of being too little too late. Second, the legal community failed to convince the general public of their earnestness to improve the fate of the common man who sees that lawyers and the judicial system as much a part of overall elite exploitation. A visit to the katchaihrey in any big or small town bears witness to the might of a system that exploits people. The black coats were not able to distance themselves from the image of the exploiter that they become in their own sphere.

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Source: The Friday Times



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