Monday, March 12, 2007

An emerging crisis in Pakistan?

The boycott of the courts by lawyers in Pakistan, a topic poorly covered in American news outlets, could reveal a significant turn of affairs for the country. Musharraf has placed the Chief Justice under house arrest for reasons that are unstated so far but are presumed to be the Justice’s willingness to hear cases of “disappearance” that apparently the government doesn’t want heard. Is there something it doesn't want revealed? Whoever these “disappeared” persons are, they are a significant number. As in Iran in the 1970s the scale of "disappearances" can indicate a growing discontent with the government that it somehow thinks it must quash to stay in control. It has been said to me that the people now have few places to turn for redress: the President holds office with unconvincing credentials; the Parliament appears to be toothless, unable to stray ouside of Musharraf's wishes. The one place where middle class folks (the poor have no leverage at all) may hope to get some redress is the courts. Musharaf’s Chief Justice has been willing to hear cases of abuse of power by the government. And now, even though under house arrest, he is unwilling to resign. This is the setting of the boycott by hundreds of lawyers. They are demonstrating all over the country. These men represent the middle class, not the downtrodden poor: that they are willing to face police beatings suggests that Pakistan could be facing a serious crisis. The American administration regards Musharraf as their "friend" in Pakistan but he could be on the way out -- or couldn't he?

The BBC says that “In Lahore, more than 20 lawyers were injured in clashes with police. Hundreds of lawyers wearing black suits rallied in other cities.” . . . The judge is a controversial figure noted for his firm line on government misdeeds and human rights abuses. … Rallies attended by hundreds of black-suited lawyers were also held in the capital, Islamabad, and in other cities including Karachi and Quetta. The Bar Association says the court shutdown is total. "It's a complete boycott of the superior and lower courts by all lawyers," Court Bar Association president Munir Malik told the AFP news agency.

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