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Lawyers Emerge as Key Players in Pakistani Protests

November 6, 2007 at 6:10 PM EST
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LINDSEY HILSUM, ITV News Correspondent: I’m at the house where Benazir Bhutto is spending the night in Islamabad. Her people have come here to greet her, but she doesn’t have the same level of support as in her hometown of Karachi. Yet in this situation, in this state of emergency, everyone’s eyes are now on her next move.

Landing in the capital this evening, she said she feared that General Musharraf would now delay elections.

BENAZIR BHUTTO, Former Pakistani Prime Minister: It’s essential. If this is not the case, for General Musharraf to come on television and announce that elections are being polled for January 16th, the assemblies are being dissolved on November 15th. Look, the assemblies have to be dissolved in nine days’ time for the election schedule to be adhered to.

LINDSEY HILSUM: She left the airport in an open-roofed vehicle, despite the bombs targeted on her motorcade in Karachi last month, in which 140 of her supporters were killed.

The violence, however, was in Multan today, near Lahore, where lawyers and police clashed for a second day. Lawyers are still the main group demonstrating against what they say is martial law. But the protests are getting smaller as more lawyers are arrested.

Members of the Islamabad Bar Association were on the streets before a telephone address by Iftikhar Chaudhry, the deposed Supreme Court justice who’s under house arrest.

IFTIKHAR CHAUDHRY, Former Chief Justice, Pakistan (through translator): I request the community of lawyers to go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice. Don’t be afraid. God will help us. And the day will come when you’ll see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time.

LINDSEY HILSUM: But the new chief justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar, swore in another four judges and set aside the ruling by the deposed Supreme Court that the state of emergency was illegal.

General Musharraf wore military uniform at cabinet today. If the court says he may remain president, he’ll be happy for parliamentary elections to go ahead.

Benazir Bhutto’s supporters will go along with whatever she decides, but many others in Pakistan will regard any elections while General Musharraf remains president as illegitimate.

A highly politicized community

Husain Haqqani
Boston University
This entire struggle has become a struggle for rule of law in Pakistan, and the lawyers have an interest in upholding the constitution and becoming the champions of rule of law.

GWEN IFILL: Margaret Warner has more.

MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the unusual role lawyers are playing in this crisis and where their protests may lead, we turn to Husain Haqqani, director of Boston University's Center for International Relations and a syndicated columnist in South Asia. He was an adviser to Benazir Bhutto when she was prime minister.

And Steve Coll, a New Yorker magazine staff writer and president of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think-tank in Washington, he's a former Washington Post correspondent in South Asia and recently returned from a 10-day reporting trip to Pakistan.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Husain Haqqani, explain to us why lawyers are the ones who are out front on this.

HUSAIN HAQQANI, Boston University: Margaret, there are three factors. First of all, the lawyers are a highly politicized community. In fact, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association is a member of Benazir Bhutto's party. Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League is also represented amongst the legal community, so that's one of the reasons.

The second is that Pakistan's lawyers can afford to protest: 65 million Pakistanis live below one dollar a day, so they're too poor to miss out on one day's work to be able to join a protest. Lawyers can afford to do that.

And the third thing is that this entire struggle has become a struggle for rule of law in Pakistan, and the lawyers have an interest in upholding the constitution and becoming the champions of rule of law.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there something in the history or culture or traditions of Pakistan and Pakistani society that pushes lawyers to this role? I mean, is this a role they've played in the past?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Absolutely. Pakistan's founder was a lawyer. Most of Pakistan's elected leaders historically have been lawyers. And whenever Pakistan has had martial law, the lawyers are the ones who have had the greatest trouble with it.

During 1968, '69, the lawyers started the campaign that resulted in the ouster of Pakistan's first military ruler, Field Marshal Ayub Khan. They also were at the forefront of the campaign against General Zia-ul-Haq, although General Zia-ul-Haq died in a plane crash. So there is a history to this.

MARGARET WARNER: What's your view, Steve Coll, of the prominent role lawyers are taking in this?

STEVE COLL, Staff Writer, The New Yorker: I think they started out as an angry minority, enflamed by President Musharraf's decision to sack the chief justice of the Supreme Court. And for some of the reasons Husain has outlined, they've now become the front of a much broader political opposition.

They're attempting to restore a judiciary that has been really badly weakened over the last 20 years. They are defending a constitution, but we should be clear Pakistan's constitution is quite an unstable document.

What they really express is a kind of national wish that there be a stable constitutional order and a system of reliable rule of law. And in that sense, they've become a vanguard for a much broader movement to restore civilian rule.

Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's role

Steve Coll
New America Foundation
He clearly was calling Pakistanis of all kinds to make 'sacrifices.' And he used that word knowing that any street protest is likely to generate violence.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Husain Haqqani, would you say the same thing about the Supreme Court, had taken a new, more assertive role after Musharraf, the first time he suspended the chief justice, back in the spring?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Absolutely. In the past, Pakistan's Supreme Court judges were sacked by military rulers, through one device or another, but they went home. This particular chief justice, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, decided that he's going to resist. He said, "You can't send me home. It is not in the constitution."

That was a breath of fresh air in Pakistan, somebody standing up to the all-powerful military and saying, "Look, you can't decide everything." And that made him a folk hero. When he started his rallies in March, farmers, peasants turned up at his rallies. His march from Islamabad to Lahore, which is a five-hour drive, became a 28-hour drive. And so the lawyers started it, but the people joined in.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Steve, we saw today him rallying lawyers -- well, he's under house arrest -- by cell phone. How central a figure is he now in this unfolding drama?

STEVE COLL: Well, he's cast himself as a political leader. He's moved beyond his judicial role, and he's trying to call people into the streets. In that sense, he now joins Benazir Bhutto, who has a proven record of being able to draw followers in a street, as a kind of broker at a pivotal moment.

What happens next I think depends to some extent on how broad and how sustained popular protests against this emergency becomes. He clearly was calling Pakistanis of all kinds to make "sacrifices." And he used that word knowing that any street protest is likely to generate violence.

There's already been a number of instances this year where security forces have fired on protesters and killed unarmed civilians. So if he succeeds in calling his followers into the street, he's inviting them to participate in a potentially dangerous movement.

MARGARET WARNER: And there's really, I gather, very bad blood between him and Musharraf. I mean, Chaudhry really became a thorn in Musharraf's side.

STEVE COLL: It's personal on both sides. For General Musharraf, the chief justice, as with one or two other figures in Pakistani politics, became a man with whom he just felt he could not do business, for whom he had no trust and regard.

And, ultimately, he decided that he was prepared to risk a very carefully developed negotiation with Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan People's Party in order to ensure that he was rid of this man and rid of the court that he seemed to be leading against him.

Poor people don't risk arrest

Husain Haqqani
Boston University
The lawyers represent the middle class. Pakistan's poorest of poor basically do not like to enter a campaign in which they are likely to be arrested, because one household member going to prison means the family goes without food.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Professor Haqqani, what do you think explains the fact that the people have not come to the streets yet the way they did in the spring?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Let us understand that this is just the beginning. People will join in. As I said earlier, the lawyers represent the middle class. Pakistan's poorest of poor basically do not like to enter a campaign in which they are likely to be arrested, because one household member going to prison means the family goes without food.

So Benazir Bhutto's supporters, who definitely are the poorest of the poor, they usually come out, like they did on October 18th when Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan, for celebratory rallies, rallies that are not challenged by the police, although that one turned violent because of a suicide attack.

When Benazir Bhutto calls for rallies and people don't feel that they are threatened by being arrested or beaten up by the police, they will turn out in large numbers. And that's exactly what happened with the chief justice during spring. After the initial police resistance, when he was allowed to have the rallies, larger numbers of people came out. And I think we'll see that in the days to come.

MARGARET WARNER: Steve, before we go on about the prospect of a rally, because Bhutto is calling for one on Friday, I mean, how far can lawyers really get if they're really just on their own? I mean, they vowed to, for instance, cripple the courts. But can that really put enough pressure on Musharraf?

STEVE COLL: No, I think only the broader popular protests that Husain refers to can put sufficient pressure on Musharraf to force either a backtracking in the state of emergency that he's declared or, perhaps in a more dire scenario, his removal from office.

MARGARET WARNER: So what do you think -- how do you think this is going to unfold? I mean, I'm not asking you really to predict, but what are Musharraf's options here?

STEVE COLL: Well, I think, essentially, there are two scenarios. Either he gets away with it, or he doesn't. If he gets away with it, it will be because he outlasts the street protests. He enjoys the cover that seems to be available from the Bush administration's mixed signals about how they're going to react to essentially his coup, and also because he holds the army together, which is something he's managed to do for a long time under pressure.

If he doesn't get away with it, it will be because popular protests or other factors -- for instance, dissent within the army -- essentially brings matters to a head behind the scenes and leads his colleagues in uniform to say, "You've gone too far. We cannot recover from this. And it's in our institutional interest to make a change."

Benazir Bhutto's role

Steve Coll
New America Foundation
She has to decide whether she's prepared to go to jail, whether she's prepared to lead all of her followers into the street, how she's going to mount the pressure that she seems prepared to mount.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Haqqani, what do you think Musharraf's options are? And do you think what the lawyers are doing now has the power to ultimately force him to back down?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: I don't think it has the power on its own, but it is part of many factors. Definitely if there's prolonged unrest, Pakistan's economy is going to be affected. Musharraf has attracted international investment, which he brags about. Investors don't like a country where there is unrest in the streets.

So then the prosperity of the military is going to be affected, because the military is a major stakeholder in Pakistan's economy now. I think those are the factors that are more likely to make Musharraf basically change his orientation or the military will make him change his direction.

I don't see him getting away with it completely at all. The reason is that Pakistani society simply cannot -- this has lasted almost several months already. It began in March, and Pakistan has had one form or another of unrest for several months.

I think it has to get resolved or get worse. And if it gets worse, then the Pakistan army tells General Musharraf, "It's time for you to go, sir. Our institution is more important than your personality."

MARGARET WARNER: And, Steve Coll, does Benazir Bhutto have any cards to play here? She was asked today a couple of times about, is she going to meet with Musharraf?

STEVE COLL: Well, there are indications that, as would be natural, that Musharraf is reaching out to her, trying to see if there is a way that he can persuade her to keep her people off the street.

I don't see how she can accommodate the president at this stage. He has essentially abrogated the agreement that they had made together. She has to decide whether she's prepared to go to jail, whether she's prepared to lead all of her followers into the street, how she's going to mount the pressure that she seems prepared to mount.

And she'll presumably make those decisions, in part, on whether she believes there is any realistic chance that Musharraf would turn around quickly, and reschedule the elections, and essentially undo the state of emergency that he's created. That seems unlikely, but the Bush administration, among others, has been urging President Musharraf to reconsider quickly. And it's at least conceivable that there's a discussion about that in Musharraf's cabinet.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, we'll be watching. Thank you so much, Steve Coll, Husain Haqqani, thanks.