Thursday, February 04, 2010, Safar 19, 1431 A.H   ISSN 1563-9479
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The News International Pakistan

 A tribute to the lawyers' movement
What started off as a protest march of black-coat attired lawyers determined to have their chief justice restored to his rightful position has changed the trajectory of Pakistan's political consciousness. It has impacted profoundly the results of the Feb 18 elections and thrust the issue of political will to reinstate the judiciary to the forefront of our media discussions and everyday conversations.

Prime Minister Gilani's very welcome announcement to free the honourable judges and their families from house arrest in the first few sentences of his maiden address is demonstrative of the importance of this core issue in the minds of ordinary Pakistanis. Although differences may crop up on matters of foreign policy, provincial autonomy, and even women's rights, there is very broad consensus on the issue of the judiciary. Barring certain elements who may stand to profit directly and a sprinkling of those who have allowed confusion to triumph over righteousness, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are not double-minded about the importance of a just society governed by rule of law.

The leaders of this illustrious lawyers' movement have conducted themselves as shining stars, and as Mr Ali Ahmed Kurd correctly pointed out on "Capital Talk" the other night, have made it possible for the Pakistani voter to comprehend the imperative of a society where rule of law and the Constitution reign supreme. Those belonging to General (retired) Musharraf's camp would have one believe that our semi-literate citizenry is not yet ready for democracy, but in fact they are so ready that even some seasoned politicians have been caught off-guard.

The lawyers have lived up to the Quaid's ideals of unity, faith and discipline. They have given hope to the middle classes in Pakistan. They have given purpose to our youth. They have brought to light the possibility of a new calibre of professional leadership. They have been a beacon of guidance for the political parties and exemplified the benefits of internal democracy. They have channelled revolutionary ideals of a redistribution of power between the haves and have-nots into a broad-based movement that has cleverly engaged a large section of the elite population to join in its struggle. But above all, by virtue of their back-breaking efforts, they are defeating a culture of moral ambivalence which had become virtually endemic in Pakistan's recent past.

Last month, I received an email invitation from a socially active lady of my parents' generation to an event she had planned at the Pakistani High Commission in London. I had spent several weekends prior to that standing outside the High Commission in protest, among comrades, come rain or wind. We stood in solidarity with our fellow Pakistanis back home, shouting for instance, "Sher dekha, sher dekha, Ali Ahmed Kurd dekha!" Naturally, I felt hypocritical in accepting an invitation to an event at a venue outside which I had protested so actively and where the topic of discussion would have ignored, to say the least, this rudimentary concern of the Pakistani people. And so I declined the invitation and wrote an explanation stating that, regrettably, I would not feel comfortable attending a function at the High Commission until the judges of our great country had been restored.

"Dearest Ayesha," read the email response I received, "Pakistan has been through so much. It all passes. This too will pass."

That is exactly the point, I thought. This time, we don't want it to just pass. We can't let it just pass. I thought of writing back. Although ordinarily I don't hold back when arguing with some of my elitist friends, perhaps the fact that the lady I was corresponding with was so much older made me keep any further thoughts on the matter to myself.

I thought back to my childhood instead, when Fifty-Fifty ran a consistent parody of the income-tax officer on the take, and although viewers laughed and mocked, by and large, it did not seem to make any difference. Society had slowly begun to accept evasion of the law and a deep-seated resignation that there was no justice began to sink in. The lawyers changed that in 2007.

While previously Justices (retired) Wajeehuddin Ahmed and Saeeduzaman Siddiqui were only spoken of fondly within the legal community, today they are celebrities in their own right for refusing to take oath under a Provisional Consitutional Order at a time when it was fashionable to do so. Within just a few months, Pakistan's culture transformed.

The new heroes were those who did right. Suddenly, cultivating connections and hobnobbing with the elites became un-cool. Joining the People's Resistance or the Campaign Against Martial Law had far more appeal for young people. Fostering new friendships based on ideology as opposed to social status was the new order of the day. Internet blogs took the lead but soon newspaper columns, like those of Mr Masood Hasan in this newspaper, for example, highlighted the achievements of those individuals who had sacrificed and foregone comfort, as opposed to those who had been doing in Rome as the Romans did.

The biggest contribution of the lawyers is therefore perhaps not their professional sacrifice, emerging political presence or even the pivotal role they have played as a pressure group. Instead, their most impressive achievement is the cultural transformation that they have promoted, and that is bubbling beneath the surface in Pakistan today. The forces of righteousness are gaining ground and the culture of moral ambivalence is becoming outdated. The lawyers indeed have taught us "Pakistan First" and all other personal affiliations or considerations a very distant second.

The writer is a London-based lawyer. She can be contacted via her website

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