KARACHI - President Pervez Musharraf's lifting of emergency rule over Pakistan
and restoration of the constitution is insufficient to put the country on the
path to democracy, say civil-rights activists.
For one thing, there is the unprecedented situation created by most of the
country's higher judiciary refusing to take an oath under Musharraf's
Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) of
November 3 that imposed the state of emergency. Anti-press laws and
restrictions on the electronic media remain. And last, but not least, is
Musharraf himself, elected as president for the next five years while still in
army uniform, by an outgoing assembly.
The judges who refused to take oath under the PCO may "have ceased to be
judges" according to caretaker Law Minister Afzal Haider, but many of them
refuse to accept this position. For the first time in Pakistan's history, the
majority of judges of the Supreme Court and the four provincial High Courts
refused to legitimize a PCO. The stance of these "non-PCO judges" is also
unprecedented: they still consider themselves to be the rightful judges.
Ordinary citizens have taken the lead from the "peaceful defiance" of the
judges, symbolized by the deposed chief justice of the supreme court, Iftikhar
Mohammed Chaudhry, who has been under house arrest in his official residence
since November 3.
Many lawyers support this position. The day after the imposition of martial
law, lawyers in Karachi began sending out cell phone text messages proclaiming
that non-PCO chief justice Sabihuddin Ahmed of the Sindh High Court "is our
chief justice. All judges continue to hold office. We do not recognize [the new
chief justice sworn in that day]".
Several of the deposed judges are still in their official residences. When
Justice M A Shahid Siddiqui of the Lahore High Court on November 30 received a
letter from the Lahore High Court Registrar dated November 16, requesting him
to vacate his official residence, he issued a notice to the registrar. Terming
the letter "an attempt to intimidate and over-awe judges who have not
surrendered to the chief of army staff [Musharraf]," he wrote: "I, therefore,
as a sitting judge of the Lahore High Court direct the registrar of this court
to explain as to why and at whose instance he issued this letter asking me to
vacate my official residence. The reply shall be submitted within a month."
The exchange triggered another chain of events that proved most embarrassing to
the government. Students and lawyers began holding vigil outside Siddiqui's
residence. Many stayed outside all night in the chill of the Lahore winter,
including the well-known activists and lawyers Asma Jahangir and Hina Jillani,
along with a host of other high-profile advocates.
"We will continue to hold vigil outside Justice Siddiqui's house," said Hamid
Khan, former president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. Despite
threats from police, activists and lawyers rotated shifts around the clock for
several days to prevent Siddiqui's eviction.
The saga ended when Siddiqui, a heart patient, had to be rushed to hospital
with chest pains. Late that night, police arrested about a dozen lawyers and
students holding vigil outside his residence. They were released from prison
after a few days and charges against them withdrawn. Siddiqui is still in the
hospital, and his family is still in their official residence.
On December 10 - International Human Rights Day, observed by Pakistani lawyers,
civil-society organizations and human-rights groups as a "black day" - deposed
Sindh High Court chief justice Sabihuddin Ahmed took the position that he could
not comment on the PCO because his comments might be misconstrued as a judicial
pronouncement "because I am still the chief justice of the high court".
Meanwhile, journalists hold that the lifting of emergency rule is meaningless
for the media unless the government withdraws the amended Registration of
Printing and Publication Ordinance, 2002 and the Pakistan Electronic Media
Regulatory Authority that continue to be used against the independent media.
Mazhar Abbas, general secretary of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists,
noted that the closure of even one or two private television channels (Geo and
Royal TV) is a "violation of Article 19 of the constitution, which provides
freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the press. If this article has
been restored then why have these channels not been allowed to resume
"The continued ban on TV anchors, talk shows and live call-ins has restricted
TV channels from free coverage of elections," he said. "It is also a violation
of citizens' rights to speech as provided in the constitution."
Musharraf pushed through six more amendments in the constitution through
executive orders on Friday, a day before lifting the emergency, revoking the
PCO and restoring the constitution. His first act after restoring the
constitution was to swear in new members of the Supreme Court.
For many in Pakistan, the fact that Musharraf was elected as president "while
still in army uniform by an assembly that had completed its term and had no
mandate to elect him for another five years", as one activist put it,
de-legitimizes his office.
A Lahore High Court advocate, Asad Jamal, questioned his restoration of the
constitution, terming it meaningless, given the over a dozen amendments that
Musharraf has pushed through over the past month that provide immunity to
himself and his actions. "He has destroyed the character of the constitution,"
said Jamal. "He will make sure that there is no need to ratify these amendments
in Parliament, unless he is sure of the requisite two-thirds majority."
But getting Musharraf out of the equation will not dent the military-backed
system he represents. "As long as the military continues to run the show,
bankrolled and supported by Washington for its own short-term interests in 'the
war on terror', and as long as Pakistani politicians continue to collude with
the system without addressing the real issues of poverty, unemployment and
education, Pakistan will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis," one analyst
said, requesting anonymity.