Revolt in Pakistan to Achieve Justice Reforms and Democracy

By Basil Fernando, Executive Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission

What has taken place during the period from March 9, 2007 to July 20, 2007 in Pakistan by way of massive protest against the attempts of the military regime to oust the Chief Justice, Mr. Iftehkar M. Chaudhry from his office, culminating in a decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to reinstate him in his position is a movement of historic magnitude, the like of which the world has seen rarely and in South Asia, never before.

This picture gives a colourful narrative of this story from the day of the suspension of the Chief Justice to the day of judgment by the Supreme Court. Behind this visible narrative there are many more revelations than the actual events of the chronology of these months. On the one hand these revelations are about a country that has been so completely betrayed by a series of successive military regimes. The devastation caused by these regimes on the institutional aspects of democracy in the country has now reached a level where it is possible for a military dictator to imagine that even the Chief Justice can be dismissed as and when the military chief thinks it fit.

However, the other side of the same story is that the people of Pakistan have crossed the threshold of their endurance of extreme forms of repression. And this, the military regime, which had become complacent by their hold on power could not even imagine. The attempt to silence such a mass revolt by crude acts of violence as massacres, planting of bombs and harassment of activists engaged in revolt, reveals that the mindset of the military no longer comprehends the magnitude of the social revolt that is now being expressed in the country.

No one predicted that the Chief Justice could win this battle against the military general, Musharraf. In fact, the support of the global media for the struggling lawyers, judges and the masses was not manifested hugely. The assumptions were more in favour of the military regime striking a deadly blow against the Chief Justice and others who were supporting him. A study of the coverage of events in the global media does not show that it understood the magnitude of the movements that are unfolding in Pakistan. It can be said without exaggeration that the judges, lawyers and the protesting masses have created an extremely surprising situation that the rest of the world will take yet some more time to fathom.

It is obvious that the people of Pakistan are clamoring for political change of great scale. The whole episode around the Chief Justice is just a manifestation of an awakening which is widespread and has influenced all sectors of society in Pakistan, the poor and the rich, professionals and ordinary folk, the media and its recipients. A collective will is being expressed which is greater than any individual, for example, greater than the Chief Justice as a person. Out of the depths the people of Pakistan are crying for a fundamental transformation from military repression into a more genuine democratic way of life. This revolt is not just about the military but also about the type of democratic parties so far existing in the country which have failed to provide a proper leadership for the development of a wider democracy in Pakistan.

The message written on the faces of all those whose pictures we see in this booklet, as well as the message written over the clear sky of Pakistan is that the day of reckoning has now arrived. The people demand a responsible democratic leadership to take over political power and replace the military rule in the country. However, what the people demand is not just a formal return to democracy but substantial that will ensure the clear separation of powers and the capacity for the people to participate in resolving their problems. The task of the judiciary now is to help shape the type of democracy that can answer the aspirations of a people in revolt wanting substantial changes in a short period of time.

From March to July the lawyers were on the streets. They symbolized the professional classes in Pakistan which are sharing the same frustrations and aspirations as the lawyers. On them now falls the task of providing the intellectual impetus needed to transform the energy of a revolt into transformative action to bring about viable institutions that can improve the quality of life of the people. Finding paths to end corruption and abuse of power will remain a major challenge. Developing strategies to deal with massive poverty and injustices is another. Developing reforms in the institutions of parliament, the courts and the police, in order to make it possible for the people to interact constructively is the ultimate challenge.

It is also time for the media of Pakistan to throw off the shackles imposed on them by militarism and to play a role as an important component of a democracy. From March to July during the periods of revolt the media fought courageously alongside the people and were exposed to much grave harassment. But it was the military that lost and not the media. In the months to come vigorous media involvement will help to evolve ideas that the people can make use of to achieve the changes they desire.

It is time now for the international community to catch up with the tremendous developments in Pakistan. The struggle for democracy in the country deserves vigorous support from all over the world. Particularly, it is hoped that the democratic elements in India will rise to support strong democratic reforms in Pakistan and also rise like the masses of Pakistan for improving conditions of life and democracy in their own country.