Pakistan: Lawyers’ Protest shows crisis of regime

The lawyers of Pakistan by taking to the streets to oppose an arbitrary act of the dictatorship have demonstrated their desire to fight, and if properly led, they could go far further than the immediate issue, to a genuinely national revolutionary struggle for democracy. Instead of that, all the indications are that the lawyers' movement is beginning to weaken and subside. Why is this? On March 9 a presidential order set in motion the removal from office of Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The immediate reaction was an explosion of protests from lawyers all over Pakistan. Lawyers' associations held militant demonstrations in all the major cities across the country to put pressure on the government to withdraw the order. The angry demonstrators, dressed in their lawyers' black suits and ties shouted slogans against President Pervez Musharraf.

Militant traditions

PTUDC leader Ejaz Khan Advocate leading lawyers demonstration in Peshawer (NWFP)

The lawyers of Pakistan are quite unlike the lawyers in the USA and Western Europe. They have a very militant democratic tradition that goes back to the days of the struggle against the British Raj. By taking to the streets to oppose an arbitrary act of the dictatorship, the lawyers have demonstrated their desire to fight, and this struggle, if properly led, could go far further than the immediate issue. It could have been the beginning of a genuinely national revolutionary struggle for democracy. Instead of that, all the indications are that the lawyers' movement is beginning to weaken and subside. Why is this?

The lawyers are part of a well-defined social class: the middle class intelligentsia. This class historically has played a most important role in the revolutionary movements of the Sub-Continent, in the struggle for national independence and the formation of the Communist Party of India. But it is self-evident that the middle class and the intelligentsia lack a sufficient social base to carry out a revolution. It can only do this if it links its struggles firmly to the struggles of the masses - the working class and the peasantry.




Manzoor Ahmed - Marxist MP from Kasur

Among the lawyers there are undoubtedly many left wing and progressive elements who would like to continue the movement and go further. The Marxist wing is beginning to get an echo among these layers and its influence is growing. The outstanding work of the Marxist MNA, Manzoor Ahmed, himself a lawyer and prominent member of the Kasur Bar Association, is widely recognized and has greatly raised the authority of the Marxists in these circles.

Lawyers boycotted court proceedings in Lahore and elsewhere in Punjab. There were demonstrations in many parts of Sindh. Thousands turned up in rallies in Hyderabad, Thatta, Sanghar, Naushahro Feroze, Khairpur, Larkana, Shikarpur, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur and Dadu.Hunger strike camps by groups of lawyers were set up at the high court and subordinate courts. The protesters were noisy but peaceful in most areas. But in some cases there were angry altercations and clashes with the police. In some areas the police attacked demonstrators with tear gas and baton charges. They brutally beat protestors, including women. In general, the lawyers showed great courage and determination.

What is behind the crisis?

The chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has accused President Musharraf of wanting not only "a pliant judiciary, he wants a totally subservient one", adding "but it's very difficult in 2007 to have that with today's free media and the independent bar." In an interview with Newsweek magazine, Asma Jahangir asserted that "insecure dictators see ghosts everywhere", noting that "this is not the first time it has happened."

Indeed it is not. The fact is that the top judiciary of Pakistan has always had a most cowardly and servile attitude towards those in power - especially military dictatorships. These high priests of bourgeois "law and order" always groveled and fawned before the military strong men: Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia al Huq, and finally Musharraf. They were always prepared to bend the knee and find some legal excuse to justify martial law and the suppression of democratic rights.

The argument about the need to protect the independence of the judiciary is entirely phony. Since when has the judiciary in Pakistan been independent of the executive? The answer is never. After the military coup of 1999 the Supreme Court justices swore a loyalty oath to Musharraf, giving him blanket powers to remain in office and continue to wear the uniform of the Pakistan army. Chaudhry also swore this oath, so it is no wonder that Musharraf is not very pleased that he is now trying to get out from under. It is increasingly clear that the present regime is very shaky.

The Americans are putting remorseless pressure on Musharraf to deliver in the "war against terror". But this is easier said than done. They forced him to launch a war in the tribal area on the frontier with Afghanistan (which the Americans now call Talibanistan). But the Pakistan army has taken at least 800 casualties and the only effect has been to drive more and more Pushtoon tribesmen into the arms of the Taliban. There is growing criticism at home and growing unrest in the armed forces. This is creating serious strains and contradictions within the state itself. The present constitutional crisis is an expression of these unbearable tensions.

Musharraf now finds himself besieged on all sides. Far from showing gratitude, the Americans complain he is not doing enough. Cheney, the right wing madman who is now Vice-President of the most powerful nation on earth comes to Islamabad and lectures Musharraf as if he was a schoolmaster lecturing a little schoolboy. A few days later Cheney was almost blown up by the Taliban who have infiltrated the very heart of power in Kabul. But that was not much consolation to Musharraf.

Feeling isolated and vulnerable, the general is determined to concentrate all power in his own hands and eliminate all real or imaginary enemies within the state apparatus. He is determined to remain in power, irrespective of who wins the next elections, and he is particularly sensitive about any suggestion that he should step down as commander of the army. He insists on his right to remain as President and to continue to wear his army uniform. The reasons for this are quite clear. He does not wish to be put on trial and end up either in prison or in exile. Hence his determination to remove Chaudhry and replace him with a more pliant man.

The immediate issue was a ruling of the chief justice on missing Pakistanis. Musharraf has said they are jihadis, but others deny this. Ms Jahangir said:

"He wants the world to feel that these disappeared people are Islamic militants, which is not true. I would say 60-70 per cent on the list of the 141 disappeared people that we have given to the Supreme Court are Sindhi and Baloch nationalists who are secular. And some of these nationalists are well known in the country. They are poets and writers, and their work is secular. They have no connection to jihad, or Al Qaeda or Taliban. Either he's living in denial or is misled. But I think he is just lying."

This presentation of things is too simple and too kind to Chaudhry. The HRCP chairperson, who is a Supreme Court lawyer, said: "As far as the missing people are concerned, Justice Chaudhry has not given a single judgment on it. He kept the HRCP's petition pending for one and half months. But since we are lawyers of renown, it is very difficult for any judge to kick us around -- he had to hear it. But he went at it very slowly." In other words, Chaudhry was dragging his feet. But this was not good enough for Musharraf. As an army officer, he expects his orders to be carried out unquestioningly and at the double.

He did give a notice to the government (to act), but he really didn't give a judgment. There was not a single time when he said that those who kept these people should be brought to justice. All he was doing was saying to the government "let's find some people".

"How can any court close its eye to hundreds of people who have disappeared?"

Asked whether President Musharraf worried that Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry would rule against his retaining a dual role as president and chief of army staff later this year, Ms Jahangir said: "Whether the president can continue to wear his uniform or not is not an issue. We do not think that any judge has that kind of courage, including Justice Chaudhry. We don't think that these judges have gumption or courage."

These words contain a great truth about judges in general and Pakistan judges in particular. They are not generally noted for qualities like gumption or courage, and the sight of a military jackboot placed on their desk tends to make them come to the "right" conclusion in a remarkably short period of time.

Who is Chaudhry?

As far as Justice Chaudhry is concerned, we must entertain no illusions. By his dramatic removal, he has acquired the mantle of a great democratic martyr and "Friend of the People". This is a travesty of the truth. Chaudhry is a typical representative of his class and profession, that is, a typical bourgeois. He was special only insofar as he defended the interests of his class - the ruling class - with an intelligence and astuteness that is entirely atypical of the ignorant, narrow and crude majority of the National Assembly and the rest of the Pakistan state.

Marx explained long ago that the state is an organ of oppression of one class over another. The bourgeois state is really only a kind of joint-stock company through which the landlords, bankers and capitalists exercise their dictatorship over the majority of society - the workers, the peasants and the middle class. But this situation can only be maintained if the masses are deceived into believing that the state "belongs to everyone", that all citizens are equal before the Law, and so on and so forth.

These legal myths and sugary illusions are the essence of bourgeois democracy, which is undoubtedly the most efficient and economical mode of rule from the point of view of the capitalists. The bourgeois do not normally like military dictatorships because they lose their power to directly control the affairs off state. The generals do not take orders from civilians - they give orders, which they expect to be obeyed. In addition, for services rendered, they take a sizeable cut of the state's resources, filling their pockets and bank accounts with the money that is fleeced from the workers, peasants and middle class through heavy taxation.

Therefore, although the Pakistan bourgeois rely upon the army and police to "keep order" (that is, to defend their property and keep the workers under control), they resent being displaced from direct control of the state pie, and are anxious to get their snouts back into the trough as quickly as possible. That is the real meaning of their constant grumbling and moaning about the need for a "speedy return to democracy" - that is, for a speedy return to a situation where the bourgeois politicians can distribute the offices of state, and their lavish rewards, among themselves, their families and supporters.

Justice Chaudhry was undoubtedly a most intelligent representative of the bourgeoisie. He understood that, in order to uphold the state and the common interests of the ruling class (which are really one and the same thing), it was necessary to preserve at all costs the illusion that "justice is impartial" and that the state (in the shape of the law) is above all classes. This is entirely false, but it is essential that this fiction be believed. Therefore, on more than one occasion, the chief justice adopted decisions that were highly inconvenient for Musharraf.

One striking example concerns the decision to block the privatization of Pakistan Steel last November. This was a severe embarrassment for Musharraf and was seen as a major victory for the workers. But the real reason for this decision was not the magnanimity of an enlightened judge but the magnificent mass movement of the workers who forced the government to back down.

The mass agitation against the privatization of Pakistan Steel was led by a movement organized by the Pakistan Trade Union Defence Committee (PTUDC), which took the initiative to launch a Labour Congress twelve months ago. The national campaign was a great success and roused a large body of support to back the struggle of the steel workers. This movement in turn found a voice inside the National Assembly, where the Marxist MNA, Manzoor Ahmed, delivered a fiery speech denouncing the government's privatization plans.

This speech exposed the regime's corruption and mishandling of the privatization deal. A steel mill worth 700 billion rupees was to be sold for only 21.6 billion. This was daylight robbery. This gave rise to an enormous hue and cry at all levels. The revelations of Manzoor even shook sections of the state bureaucracy. The speech triggered a movement of demonstrations and attacks in the press that put enormous pressure on the regime.

The decision of Chaudhry to intervene and block the privatization on a legal technicality occurred after all this had already happened. His decision was not cause but effect. By taking such a decision, he effectively defused the movement and saved Musharraf from a difficult situation - at least for the time being. The impression was created that it could all be solved by recourse to the bourgeois courts where the workers had good friends who would do everything for them.

This would be a most dangerous illusion if the workers were ever to believe it! How many times in history has the bourgeois state persuaded the workers to refer their class conflicts to the tender mercies of courts, lawyers, arbitration and royal commissions, in order to dilute the struggle, to take the steam out of the movement, and, when the workers dropped their guard, stabbed them in the back? Our slogan must always be: do not trust the bourgeois state, laws and constitutions! Trust only in your own strength, your own organizations and your own class-consciousness!

The reactionary side of Chaudhry was exposed by his attitude towards the Sindh teachers. When the Sindh government imposed a ban on the teachers' unions and associations, the teachers filed a case against this decision with the Sindh High Court, which ruled that the ban was unconstitutional and illegal and restored the teachers' right to organize. Then the Sindh government appealed to the Supreme Court and Chaudhry ruled that the teachers should not involve themselves in politics. So they were again stripped of the democratic right to organize unions. This was a most eloquent lesson for the working class on the democratic credentials of Mr. Chaudhry.

Another example: after the Pakistan Steel scandal, another scandal was uncovered in relation to the privatization of Pakistan Telecommunications. A petition was presented to the Supreme Court, but even one year later, Chaudhry, "the workers' friend", has not constituted a court to hear the proceedings.

We repeat: no conscious proletarian can entertain the slightest illusion about the real class position of Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. We must not allow our class-consciousness to be blunted by "democratic" demagogy or allow our revolutionary spirit to be weakened by fairy stories of "Friends in High Places".

Our attitude to democracy

Does this mean that the workers of Pakistan are indifferent to the lawyers' movement and must stand aloof from it? Not at all. The Pakistan Marxists represented by The Struggle correctly gave critical support to the lawyers' movement. In several areas the Marxists played a leading role.

The workers and revolutionary youth of Pakistan support the movement of the lawyers and participate actively in every street demonstration and protest. It is our revolutionary duty to make use of every conflict in the bourgeois state to arouse the broadest layers of the masses to revolutionary action. This means that we must reach every layer that is prepared to engage in a real fight against the dictatorship - as opposed to the false and empty shadow boxing practiced by the ARD leaders and the other heroes of bourgeois democracy.

The bourgeois politicians paint a beautiful picture of democracy, which, they assure us, will solve all our problems like magic. It is like the snake oil that certain medicine men used to offer to the poor villagers as a cure for all known diseases. Just buy one bottle of this for a few rupees and all will be well! The poor villager parts with his precious rupees, drinks the contents of the bottle, and has a bad stomachache for several weeks afterwards. Meanwhile, the medicine man has disappeared to sell his wares in another village.

There is a fundamental difference between the attitude of the workers and peasants towards democracy and that of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois democrats. For the masses democracy is not an end in itself but only a means to an end. The bourgeois democrat wants democracy to further his own career. But the workers and peasants are interested in fighting for the most advanced and consistent democracy because it provides them with the most favourable conditions for developing the class struggle. Our aim is to overthrow the rule of the landlords and capitalists and build a real socialist democracy based on the nationalization of the land, banks and industries under the democratic control and administration of the working people themselves.

We demand free elections, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom to strike and demonstrate, free trade unions and full rights for all workers' parties to carry on agitation and revolutionary work. We are duty bound to support any genuine struggle that tends to increase the rights of working people and to oppose any action that tends to restrict our democratic rights.


PTUDC leader Ejaz Khan Advocate leading lawyers demonstration in Peshawer (NWFP)

PTUDC leader Ejaz Khan Advocate leading lawyers demonstration in Peshawer (NWFP)

The Marxist tendency intervened energetically, distributing 50,000 leaflets of the PTUDC in the lawyers' demonstrations. In addition, two special issues of The Struggle newspaper have been produced. Several press conferences were held by Comrade Manzoor Ahmed, and his speeches have been printed and massively distributed.

Among comrades of the PTUDC who were advocates and lawyers and have played a leading role in organizing the movement and leading demonstrations of the lawyers in different cities of Pakistan are:

Comrade Manzoor Ahmed (Lahore and Kasur)
Comrade Riaz Lund (Karachi)
Comrade Ilyas Khan (Multan)
Comrade Ijaz Khan (Peshawar)
Comrade Rauf Lund (Jampur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajan Pur)
Comrade Sajjad Malik (Rawalpindi, Islamabad)
Comrade Rama Qamar Zeunam (Rahim Yor Khun, Sadiqabad)
Comrade Jain Saqi (Hyderabad, Salekur)
Comrade Nazar Mengal (Quetta)
Comrade Hameed Khan (Quetta)
Comrade Fazal-a-Rabi (Malakand)

However, although they have played a leading role in many areas, the Marxists are too weak to assume the leadership of the lawyers' movement nationally at this stage. The weight of the bourgeois, reactionary and fundamentalist organizations is too great and created a massive wall blocking the road to the masses and driving the movement into its present impasse.

Crisis of leadership

The opposition parties lost no time getting in on the act. The so-called Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy made a lot of noise. But as usual with these heroes of bourgeois democracy, it was a case of "sound and fury, signifying nothing." The advocates of bourgeois democracy are not capable of mounting a serious challenge to Musharraf, who treats them with unconcealed contempt. The truth is that these ladies and gentlemen are even more frightened of the masses than Musharraf. He can therefore afford to ignore their continuing bleating.

Only a genuinely mass revolutionary movement from below can overthrow the dictatorship - a movement of the workers and peasants. But the ARD leaders have no desire for such a thing. Their perspective is to intrigue and manoeuvre at the top level, issue interminable press communiqués and queue up outside the offices of the White House, patiently awaiting the day when the general will (one way or another) depart from the scene and allow them to return triumphantly to Islamabad in the first class compartment of an American airliner.

It is a poor angler who does not try to fish in troubled waters. Alongside the "democratic" opposition other forces have been trying to take advantage of the lawyers' protests for their own purposes. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, the Tehrik-i-Insaf and the Awami National Party all fell over themselves in their haste to express their support for the "independence of the judiciary". This led to some undignified jockeying for positions of control and in more than one case caused splits in the movement and the holding of separate demonstrations.

The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal is the party of the fundamentalists, who, if they ever come to power in Pakistan, will make short work of the independence of the judiciary, since they will introduce the barbaric Shariah law. They will seek to crush democracy and the labour movement and introduce a reactionary Islamic state where there will be no demonstrations either by lawyers or anybody else. This is an entirely reactionary movement, and it represents a serious threat to the labour movement - a fact that some clowns who call themselves Marxists in Britain and elsewhere seem incapable of understanding.

By limiting the scope of the movement to the narrow question of the legality of Chaudhry's removal the leaders ensured that it would not become transformed into a mass movement against the government. The bourgeois opposition parties called for the establishment of an interim government to hold free and fair elections and chanted slogans in favour of their leaders. But at no time did they chant slogans that could get an echo from the masses, like the old slogan of the PPP: "roti, kapra aur makan!" ("Bread, clothing and shelter!).

In Karachi, last Monday the opposition staged a peaceful rally, calling upon the president to resign "before the people of Pakistan throw him out of power". But these are just words. Musharraf has no intention of resigning and the bourgeois opposition has no intention of calling on the people of Pakistan to overthrow him.

As a result of this, it was inevitable that the lawyers' movement would end up in a dead end. The masses looked on impassively and failed to join the demonstrations. The government announced it was "happy" that people had rejected the protest call. Now the ruling party is planning to hold pro-Musharraf rallies during the next few days. They seek to neutralize the impact of protests organized against the president.

So what could have been the starting point of an important mass movement has turned out to be a damp squib. So unconcerned is Musharraf about the bourgeois opposition that he does not even dignify them by sending them to jail. The opposition workers and leaders whom the police picked up from different parts of Punjab on Sunday were released on Monday. The PPP put the number of arrests at 1,000, but confirmed that all had been freed by evening.

In their eagerness to embrace the lawyers, the bourgeois, reactionary and fundamentalist parties helped to smother, split and weaken the movement, for which they offered no perspective other than the purely opportunistic motive of using the lawyers as a convenient footstool to help them rise to high public office. With "friends" like these, one really does not need enemies!

Perspectives for the movement

In the Newsweek article referred to earlier, the question is asked: How do you see this ending?

"Ms Jahangir: They (the government) probably feel the longer they prolong the proceedings the greater the chance that the movement will eventually fizzle out. My own assessment is that the situation will become defused because lawyers can't stay on strike and keep protesting for months on end. But this government will make another mistake. This government is beyond repair."

These comments are mainly correct. Unless the movement of the lawyers was linked up to a general movement of the masses, it could never succeed. Eventually, the lawyers would get tired of marching and the movement would decline. This is already occurring. The lawyers' wing of the ruling PML is now asking members of bar associations to stop their agitation and wait for the Supreme Judicial Council's judgment on the presidential reference against the Chief Justice of Pakistan. They said constitutional matters could not be decided on the streets.

On the contrary! All history shows that the fundamental questions facing society are never settled in lawyer's courts or parliamentary debates, but precisely on the streets, in the factories, in the villages, in the army barracks and university campuses. The very idea that the destiny of Pakistan can be decided through a rigged constitution manipulated by a handful of selected judges, chosen on the basis of their cowardice and servility is just a vulgar farce.

The present constitutional crisis will be carefully observed by the masses. They will see it as yet further evidence of the decomposition of the regime, which is in crisis and split from top to bottom. Lenin explained long ago the conditions for a revolutionary situation. The first condition was that the ruling class should be split and unable to rule as in the past. This condition clearly exists in Pakistan. The second condition is that the middle class should be in ferment and vacillating between the ruling class and the masses. The movement of the lawyers clearly indicates a violent swing of the middle class against the regime.

The third condition is that the working class should be prepared to fight and make great sacrifices to win. The struggle of the Pakistan Steel and other workers in recent years shows that the will to fight exits in the working class. Last but not least, what is needed is a revolutionary organization with a revolutionary leadership that is able and willing to put itself at the head of the masses and lead them to victory. The rapid growth of the Pakistan Marxist tendency, The Struggle, gives us every confidence that this vital factor - the subjective factor - is growing stronger by the day and this will provide the ultimate guarantee of victory.

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