Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What the Hell Do Lawyers Really Want?

To be honest, I was always very ambivalent about the Lawyers' Movement, even in 2007. Unlike many of my friends and colleagues (many of them lawyers themselves) who were all gung-ho about what they saw as Pakistan turning a page in revolutionary terms and civil society asserting itself against dictatorship, I had plenty of misgivings about the movement.

This ambivalence was born not only out of my low personal opinion (based on past experience and history) about some of the leading lights and most vociferous supporters of that movement but also out of certain questions of logic about the aims of the movement - which were never satisfactorily answered - and a feeling that the activism generally ignored the larger socio-political regional environment in which it was taking place. This of course led to plenty of heated debates.

Unfortunately, to argue against a popular opinion is to often run the risk of your arguments being conflated with those of people you have nothing in common with but who may be arguing against it for very different reasons, usually to do with personal interest and preservation of the status quo. And this is how most of the heated debates wound up, with irrational conflating of the issues I raised with those that e.g. Naeem Bokhari or General Musharraf had with the movement. Later on, some supporters of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) - who had been at the forefront of the earlier movement - also raised similar issues but were seen to be trying to preserve a new status quo in which they were invested.

For the record, the aspects of the lawyers' movement that I questioned, aside from the character and politics of some of its leading lights, included:

- The tendency towards hooliganism and mob violence
- The tendency to blame all hooliganism and mob violence on 'external' agents and a refusal to punish those within its own ranks
- The unwillingness to countenance a dissenting point of view or any judgement that did not adhere to its opinions on a matter
- The claim that a previously severely compromised judiciary should be seen as having been washed clean by the events of March and November 2007 (the 'suspension' of the Chief Justice by General Musharraf  and the 'Emergency')
- The claim that the judiciary's stand against General Musharraf was motivated only by matters of principle...after all, all of the present 'clean' judiciary had been complicit in whitewashing General Musharraf's coup in 1999
- The repercussions of a judiciary restored to power on the backs of lawyers who would then be appearing before it
-  The inability to see the fallout of the precendences set during the movement
- The refusal to see the instability caused in the perspective of the geo-strategic Great Game being played out on Pakistan's borders

(None of these issues raised were meant, in any way, to condone either General Musharraf's inexcusable actions or the corruption of the Dogar-led court.)

Three years on, and in the midst of a new bout of a far more confused and divided lawyers' movement, all the same issues have come up once again, simply because they were never dealt with in the first place. In a twist to the usual refrain on the media that 'No Muslim can ever be involved in terrorism because it is against Islam', we now have lawyers claiming that 'No lawyer can be involved in anything illegal because they are meant to uphold the law.' What convenient logic.

Of course there are those who whisper about conspiracies to undermine the 'upright' judiciary and the character of some of the people in the limelight this time. There are those who have seized upon the fairly normal Punjab Police brutality as the only issue worthy of being focused upon. And there are those who lay the blame for the current conflagaration in Lahore at the door of political jostling for the upcoming Supreme Court Bar Association elections. As a sideshow we have the inimitable Mr Kurd - doing an encore of his clownish routines - vowing to drive the same judge away from the courts that he had a few months earlier said he would install carried on his shoulders.

But by far the biggest fraud is the pretence by those that oppose the lawyers' hooliganism this time that this is some sort of intellectual diversion from the purity of the original movement. It isn't really. It's simply a continuation of exactly what has gone before. And unless the outstanding issues are debated and addressed, we can expect far more of the same in the future.

Amazingly, Najam Sethi in his programme on Dunya TV yesterday pretty much said what I think about the issue (I say amazing, partly because he is not someone I see eye to eye with all the time and partly because I did not expect anyone on TV to articulate the issues in such a clear manner, even now). So instead of writing it out, I would encourage you to see the programme in its entirety.

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

I look forward to your dissenting points of view.


Magnum said...

Our dissenting point of view on this?
No, dude, I absolutely second you. The lawyers movement really was a fraud and anyone talking against it was kicked in the head.

let 'em eat each another up, I say. They, like the electronic media of pakistan, are very much the reflection of a society gone mad.

Prashant said...

Well I think a lot of actors are out to kill the present Govt and their efforts are really ON now:-





Prashant said...

Last but not the least:-


AI said...

I totally agree with your assertions as I have been saying amongst my own people. It is also sad that a divergent point of view against the popular belief gives credence to the notion of conspiracies.
I feel that there are mafias in whatever field you see in Pakistan and off course, the malaise of the lawyers and the politics of judicial apointment is causing us to see nightmares.
People will hopefully see the truth in due course and I hope all the media evangelists are exposed for being complicit with these lawyers and judges

karachi feminist said...

you dissent to something that actually has substance, not redundant assertions of the prevalent and hackneyed view about the lawyers' movement and the current crisis. I watched the first 3 parts and could not bear to watch the 4th, and if NS here represents your view, then I hope you at least find his condescinding attitude, chuckles, and pauses a wee bit annoying.

NS talks about militancy as a cultural practice and entwined in the history of the lawyers' movement. This, without any reference to police violence, in this case and through 2007 and 2008, where lawyers faced daily violence, were burned to death in Tahir Plaza by miscreants in cahoots with the state, beaten with batons in rural areas, and arrested Violence in response to state violence can not be demonized and isolated as a particular "militant" tendency. I do not condone it, but that is hardly relevant.

That they did not get their due trivializes the issue. Does NS base his opinion on interviews of dozens of rank and file lawyers who did not get rewarded with cash, high profile cases and judgeships, and are thus enacting their angst? Or this is this based on conjecture? It sounds like it is unsupported by evidence, and based entirely on perception.

My view of the rank and file lawyers in 2007 movement was that they were, even if unarticulated for some, fighting against the hegemonic control of courts by the establishment. They were fighting against how this plays out at the lower courts and prevents them from making their bread and butter - because their living after all does depend on the efficient functioning of the courts without bribery or orders from above - and timely dispensation of cases.

What was articulated at the surface lever by the R and F lawyers was a undying loyalty to the CJ, and an adherence to herirachy and Bar council orders of protest and boycott.

Some lawyers may be corrupt and may have never held any ideals (whether principled court reform or loyalty to a figurehead) - but masses and masses of lawyers? To deny that they came together for an ideal, rather than narrow individualistic self interests does not make any sense. You can come out once, twice maybe thrice, but sustaining a protest for months upon months? I do not think corrupt people do that and with such passion.

The true problem with the lawyers' movement was that the elitism and hierarchy of leadership within the movement was never checked by the rank and file lawyers. They did not articulate their demands in a manner that represents their rights as lawyers (and working class lawyers at that - some making as little as Rs, 10,000 a month) and their clients' rights as parties that need courts to address their grievances efficiently and judiciously. They did not push for court reform in any real manner - but stuck to a one point agenda - rule of law (Also known as restore the judiciary). What perhaps should have happened during that critical time was development of leadership within rank and file, and a clear articulation of pro people demands.

But the leadership remained in the hands of the few who were (besides Kurd) elite lawyers, and did not, at the end of the struggle, betray their own narrow class interests.