On Monday, Pakistani media outlets cited opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz [PML-N] that rejected President Asif Ali Zardari’s claim that there is no judicial crisis in the country. Dawn and The News quoted Ahsan Iqbal, PML-N Information Secretary, who said in a statement Sunday, “Until the unconstitutional decision of General Musharraf of November 3, 2007, is not reversed in letter and spirit, the legacy of the dictator will live and continue to challenge the independence of judiciary…” [Image from AAJ Television]
Iqbal asserted that there is still a judicial crisis in the country, and maintained that “the issue was not about the number of judges, it was about deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whose unconstitutional dismissal on March 9, 2007, sparked a movement for his restoration.” Iqbal emphasized, “The matter may be over for the president but for PML-N, lawyers, civil society and the media it is very much on top of national agenda.” Last Thursday, another figure in the opposition party, Raja Zafar ul-Haq further clarified that the PML-N had not dropped the judicial issue from their agenda, asserting “that no compromise will be made on the demand of terming the November 3 steps as unconstitutional and illegal,” reported GEO News.
Despite the judicial issue falling lower on the national agenda in favor of arguably more pressing issues – the economic and financial crisis, as well as the deteriorating security situation – members of Pakistan’s civil society [particularly the lawyers’ movement] are still championing for the restoration of the judiciary. According to GEO News, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan proclaimed last Thursday that “the time has come for the independence of judiciary, adding no power could prevent it now.” The news agency reported, “Speaking at a conference titled, ‘Role of the independent judiciary in economic growth’ here on Thursday, Ahsan said that foreign investors want to invest in the country where there is a rule of law and independent judiciary so that their investment could be protected.” On Monday, AAJ Television reported that lawyers in Lahore “continued their protest and boycott of courts to press for their demands for restoration of deposed judges.” [Image from GEO]
Given the current environment in Pakistan and the worsening economic and security crises, where on Pakistan’s list of priorities does the judiciary movement fall for you? I would assume that for the country’s lower classes who are more worried about their next meal than the independence of the judiciary, this issue is not even a priority. And for the people in Swat and Bajaur, who are increasingly forced to relocate due to the violence amid the intensifying military campaign, the judiciary movement may not even be on their radar. This is not to say the issue is not important or significant for the future of the country, or that it’s by any means “over” – but given the more immediate issues at hand, its temporary drop from the national agenda may be understandable.