For much of our national life we have experienced various kinds of fascism. To begin with, khaki fascism with whose ways and inner secrets we are all too familiar. The standard primer on coups d’etat could be written by us. In Karachi we have seen a fascism that dare not speak its name. Its leading symbols are the drill machine and the gunny bag for the disposal of tortured bodies. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have given us fundamentalist fascism, its trademark a knife to the throat.
As if all this was not enough we now have a new form of fascism, mini-fascism really, spearheaded by the storm troopers of the legal community. They came into their own during the 2007 lawyers’ movement, earning across-the-board admiration for their courage and tenacity in confronting Musharraf’s dictatorship and rallying to the cause of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry whom Musharraf had ousted.
If only they had returned to their chambers thereafter. But galvanised by the movement they had come into the spotlight and tasted blood. They had also been touched by that most fatal glare of all, that of the television cameras. There was no going back to the old ways.
This was not quite Trotsky’s permanent revolution. More like a permanent movement, forever going on strike at the smallest provocation, or even where any provocation was hard to find, in the process causing distress to no one more than their own clients...a classic case of biting the hand that feedeth; terrorising lower-court judges; beating up the occasional policeman; and, in what could well be the highpoint of this zeal, taking out processions in support of Mumtaz Qadri, Salmaan Taseer’s killer, and showering him with rose petals.
Before the lawyers’ movement the legal profession enjoyed little public respect. With the movement this changed. But the pendulum has swung too much to the other side, justified pride turning into arrogance and hubris. Struggling for the rule of law is one thing but practicing virtual terror in the name of the law is something different. Time was when lawyers did most of their arguing with their tongues. Now they seem to do a better job with their fists.
But then come to think of it, if bar associations feel no qualms in glorifying someone like Mumtaz Qadri, anything less is scarcely astonishing. Naeem Bokhari was roughed up in the ‘Pindi courts during the lawyers’ movement. Ahmed Raza Kasuri had ink thrown in his face in front of the Supreme Court. And people like me were thrilled by such gestures and took them as a sign of democratic enthusiasm.
We would see Ali Ahmed Kurd deliver his fiery speeches, his silvery hair falling over his eyes and Kurd with a dramatic gesture sweeping them back. What oratory. The whole thing was so romantic...’’Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive...” And the idealism we spouted: when judicial independence was secured and the rule of law had triumphed Pakistan’s problems would be solved. In such fictional narratives we wholeheartedly believed, little realising that some of the seeds being scattered would come to haunt us as they sprouted.
In the aftermath of judicial restoration, especially Justice Chaudhry’s second coming in March 2009, the unity seen during the lawyers’ movement began to fray. Asma Jahangir was given to speaking her mind about some of the judiciary’s decisions. Her election as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association seemed a sign of the legal community beginning to emerge from the mood of the barricades. But this was not to last. The nationalist winds sought to be fanned by Memogate – an enterprise in which the army, the superior judiciary and the PML-N seemed to have joined hands – and the ruling against ex-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in the contempt proceedings initiated against him by the Supreme Court have resurrected some of the earlier chauvinism. This has been evidenced in the resolutions passed, and the rallies taken out, in support of the chief justice after (1) the Bahria Town charges against the CJ’s son, Arsalan Iftikhar, and (2) Gilani’s disqualification at the hands of the Supreme Court.
Once again we have been hearing the battle-cry, “Chief teray janisar, beshumar, beshumar”.... chief your supporters, innumerable, innumerable. During the movement this cry would set anyone’s pulse racing. Now I hear it and I involuntarily cringe...or reach for the pistol I do not carry.
Why are bar associations angry with Aitzaz Ahsan? Because he was Gilani’s counsel in the contempt case ultimately responsible for his disqualification. What has been Zahid Bokhari’s crime? That he was Malik Riaz’s counsel in the suo motu notice taken by the Supreme Court of the allegations against Arsalan? Lawyers denounced because we don’t see eye-to-eye with the politics of their clients...rule of law or the triumph of absurdity?
Don’t we have enough of stupidity and hate in our midst already? We could do with some civilised discourse, a rational way of examining things instead of the bar-room fascism now being promoted. To fan the winds of intolerance we don’t need lawyers. We have our holy fathers, a surfeit of them, up and down the country. Our founding fathers, Iqbal and Jinnah, were lawyers. Suhrawardy was a leading member of the bar. Could they relate to the antics being performed in the name of the law and at the altar of judicial independence?
And is it too much to ask that the legal fraternity also spare a thought for the travails of the litigant public? Are lawyers under the impression that they earn public sympathy when they go on one of their endless strikes? More likely round curses is what they get. Reforming Pakistan is a worthy desire but it might help if the courts and our black-coat friends looked inside and did something to first reform themselves.
All these passions, most of them contradictory, indicate the interesting times we live in. Never a dull moment in the Islamic Republic...this could be our national motto. One prime minister has gone home; the scaffold is being prepared for another. The SC has given Raja Pervaiz Ashraf a deadline of two weeks to write to Switzerland about President Zardari’s ill-fated Swiss accounts. (Is there a misfortune greater than having money you can neither touch nor spend?) Raja of course will do nothing of the sort and the SC will do what it must. Another crisis on the horizon...some more interesting times for the Republic. How long can this go on? Our democracy has proved remarkably resilient – so many mishaps it has taken in its stride. The question on many lips, can it take much more?
Gen Kayani’s long poker face has to be seen as he talks to foreign visitors, the latest being ISAF Commander Gen Allen, all poker and no expression...the penny one would give for the thoughts racing through his mind. A doomed government twisting in the wind, scarcely able to hold on, performance paralysed and the future not only uncertain but full of foreboding....but my lords conducting themselves as if they have all the answers.
Tailpiece: Teresita and Howard Schaffer are two of Washington’s leading South Asia hands. Howard when he served in Pakistan in 1977 is credited with the famous remark which had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto all riled up, “The party is over.” It’s not over, Bhutto angrily responded, in front of a crowd at Fowara Chowk near Raja Bazar.
From Teresita this email: “The paragraph on Gustaf Mannerheim caught our eye because his sister Eva was my great-grandmother... I assume you know that he travelled through Pakistan (before it was Pakistan). While he was still an officer in the Tsar’s army he was commissioned to take a ride through Central Asia and on to Beijing, posing as a Swedish naturalist (he was in fact a Swedish-speaker). He started out in India, and then made his way up to Urumqi and from there eastward through ‘Turkestan’ and China. He published a book on his travels...including some amazing photographs.” Well, whaddya know?