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.
I look forward to your dissenting points of view.