You know you’re in trouble when your last best hope for justice are lawyers.
But thousands of lawyers and judges in Pakistan put their careers, their reputations, and possibly their lives on the line in the nearly two-year struggle to pressure the government to reinstate a judge.
That judge was Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, whom then-President Pervez Musharraf removed from office in 2007.
As the head of the Pakistan Army, Musharraf came to power in 1999 after a coup against the sitting Prime Minister. He became President of the country in 2001, and held a referendum the following year in which he was officially elected to a five-year term.
Despite his military dictatorship, Musharraf received U.S. support for his commitment against terrorism after the 9/11 attacks. In 2007, as Musharraf’s term came to an end, he declared martial law and suspended dozens of prominent judges whom he feared would oppose the Constitutionality of his running for re-election, as both President and Army Chief.
Among the judges sacked and placed under house arrest was Chaudhry, the nation’s most powerful judge.
Thousands of lawyers across the country have boycotted court proceedings, staged hunger strikes and organized protests.
Former Prime Minister Benezir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October 2007, after a self-imposed exile, to run against Musharraf, partly on the platform of reinstating the Chief Justice to his post. She was assassinated while campaigning in Rawalpindi in December of 2007.
Musharraf was re-elected, according to the election commission he helped put in power. However, unrelenting protests from judges and lawyers regarding the legality of Musharraf’s actions contributed to his forced resignation in August 2008.
Benezir Bhutto’s widow, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected President the following month. Even so, lawyers and judges had to fight for another six months to pressure the new government to reinstate Chaudhry.
Chaundry was officially reinstated as Chief Justice in a ceremony on March 22, 2009, the day before Pakistan’s national holiday, Pakistan Day.
Pakistan Day celebrates the anniversary of the 1940 Lahore Resolution, in which the Muslim League declared the necessity for a Muslim state in what was then British India. After eight-years of struggle and determination, the resolution became reality on August 14, 1948 when the state of Pakistan was established. (August 14 is Pakistan’s Independence Day.)
Pakistan Day also celebrates March 23, 1956, the day Pakistan became the first modern Islamic Republic.
In 2009, in honor of Pakistan Day, President Zardari proclaimed:
“When our founding fathers resolved to carve out an independent state, they had in mind a state where constitutionalism and rule of law would reign supreme. For a long time and at intervals the rule of law and constitutionalism has been trampled by dictators, sometimes under the doctrine of necessity and sometimes under the theory of successful revolution. This cycle must come to an end. It will…
“…On this day, let us all resolve that we shall endeavour to uphold the constitution, rule of law and work for the emancipation of the people. I hope that towards this end all institutions of the state will work in harmony.”