Pakistan: What next for the rule of law movement

Foqia Sadiq Khan writing for The NEWS raises some pertinent issues that require attention. PTH

Winning in lower courts too

Has David won over Goliath? It seems so. The principled, courageous, and vigorous lawyers’ movement for the independence of the judiciary in the last two years seems to have succeeded. The lawyers’ movement has been unique in its moral underpinnings and spirited protests. But does that mean timely justice will be delivered to common people in the lower courts? This is essential as the lack of it in the lower courts has a potential to give rise to religious militancy in Pakistan.

Related to religious militancy is the concern aired by some quarters that lawyers’ movement of late has been co-opted by the religious rightwing parties. Raza Rumi and Asad Sayeed wrote: “Now the secular and revolutionary lawyers are preparing for the second long march, and this time they have an array of allies in the form of various political parties. There is the PML (N) with mass support in Punjab, the rightwing Jamaat-e-Islami, and individuals like former ISI chiefs… There is also the sports star turned politician Imran Khan… A common thread among the political supporters of the lawyers’ movement is a soft corner for the Taliban and a justification for their barbarity in the name of US excesses across the globe and in particular the bombing of civilians on Pakistani territory. Curiously, the consensus among this motley group is the mantra that ‘this is not our war’. One would question how calls for ‘rule of law’ would reconcile with prescriptions of jirgas by Imran Khan and ‘Sharia’ systems of justice by others.” Beena Sarwar expressed similar opinions by emphasising the ‘Jihad International’ (that Pakistani establishment cobbled at the behest of Washington in 1980s) to be “the biggest threat facing Pakistan”.

Fauzia Minullah countered these assertions by pointing out that leftwing parties such as Anjuman Mazarain Pakistan, Awami Party, and others, progressive NGOs, human rights activists, side-lined PPP leaders and minorities leader J Salik to be also siding with the lawyers movement. She also mentioned PPP and ANP’s alliance with Maulana Fazul-ur-Rahman, reopening of Madrassah Fareediya, bartering away of Swat and allied areas for Nizam-i-Adl and appointment of supporter of burying women alive (Zehri) and giver away of young girls to settle dispute (Bijarani) as federal ministers by the PPP government.

Moral and intellectual support for the lawyers’ movement certainly came from left-leaning parties, associations and individuals. However, the numerical strength to flex street power muscle was largely provided by the rightwing parties. Imran Khan has been called “cheerleader of Taliban”, Jamaat-e-Islami is of course a religious party and PML-N has a soft stance on religious extremism. Though such a contradictory alliance is not entirely un-common in recent times. Stop the War Britain, a largely left-leaning peace organisation joined hands with a religious Muslim Council of Britain and others to launch struggle against Iraq war in 2003.

Threats emanating from religious extremism and terrorism cannot be swept under the carpet as battle for independence of superior judiciary has been won in an historic manner by the lawyers movement. A message awaits to be picked up by the implementation of Nizam-i-Adl by Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi in Swat. The message is loud and clear: you need to deliver justice at the lower level or else you leave the field open to religious extremists in other parts of the country as well.

There are about 2,000 lower courts for 170 million people in this country. A lower court judge often sitting in cramped room has to “deal” with 200-250 cases per day. As my research with Shahrukh Rafi Khan (for details, see Initiating Devolution for Service Delivery in Pakistan, Oxford University Press, 2007) on lower judiciary shows that the courts are often used by the influentials as an instrument to settle scores. The courts can act very expeditiously when there is vested interest involved. It is usually the influential rather than the poor and victimized who initiate litigation. The judges often become a party to delaying tactics, even to the point of violating the law.

There are inordinate delays in civil and criminal cases that can be obviated through a systematic process review and adjournment motions. Most of the criminal cases end up in acquittal or, due to long delays by the prosecution, eventually as a compromise. Almost half the average expense incurred on litigation is in the form of illegal fees and outright bribes.

Would the lawyers’ movement continue till justice is delivered to common person? Unlikely as lawyers themselves are often involved in delay of justice in the lower courts. Rather than pumping money into arms and ammunition, would the US and Western allies spend money on improving access and dispensation of justice at lower level? There are no signs of it as yet. There has been relatively no public debate on why $350 million Asian Development Bank’s programme failed in Pakistan in the recent past! It is critical that an independent review of the Access to Justice Programme be made public. Our notion is that it failed because its emphasis was management-oriented and technocratic rather than power oriented. Influentials and powerful gain from delayed and denied justice. Pakistan Law Commission reports have made recommendations to improve dispensations of justice since decades. Justice Hamood-ur-Rahman in “The Report of the Law Reform Commission” offered detailed analysis as far back as 1970. Lack of resources to improve physical and human infrastructure of lower judiciary is only one of the constraints, the more important constraint is the lack of political resolve to provide justice. One hopes Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry focuses on the meaningful reforms of the lower courts in his present reincarnation as the Chief Justice.

If Davids did not win the battle of providing justice in the lower courts, I doubt if someone would be able to resist another Sufi Mohammad from demanding Nizam-e-Adl through the barrel of gun.


Filed under Pakistan

7 responses to “Pakistan: What next for the rule of law movement

  1. Rabia

    “The message is loud and clear: you need to deliver justice at the lower level or else you leave the field open to religious extremists in other parts of the country as well.”

    What you are saying is that a third world country like Pakistan needs to bend over backwards providing “speedy justice” or it will be inviting a Swat-like situation. That’s basically what Sufi Muhammad & co say, though, isn’t it? You really believe that that’s the root cause of the militancy?

  2. pk

    Next should be the trial of people who disfigured the constitution

  3. saadat

    hello friends
    wrote some poetry for the justice movement…like to share with all.
    its designed….60 verses to depict the sixty odd yrs of our nation states existence
    the four insertions are laments from the four corners of Pakistan

    hope you like it

    O…… will you justice!
    Will someone soothe the raw for me?
    Will someone chink the flaw for me?
    Will someone heed the law for me?
    O’ Will you feed my ma for me?
    I have no tears to wet my eyes.
    Nor have I those imperious ties.
    Gone in oodles of Machiavellian lies,
    thrown in a dungeon with the flies.
    Like everything else I’ve lost myself.
    my dicey perch on a dangling shelf.
    I have no stash, nor obvious pelf.
    Broke my ego, yanked my “self”.
    Spooks I knew were staking me,
    Couldn’t have, just let it be?
    Wouldn’t have cast to scurry away.
    loved ones would have had to pay.
    They blew my door off its hinge.
    Book an note from window flings;
    pots and pans that were my Mings.
    Didn’t even care for baby slings,
    blue little jay that always sings.
    Trod my heart, my mama’s things.
    Lord deliver us from these binges,
    tom’s hungry, the puppy it cringes.
    Won’t you justice stand for me?
    Won’t you pull the strands for me?
    Won’t you free my hands for me?
    O’ won’t you get my land for me?
    had these couple o rooms to me.
    now my bones are hurting; see.
    Hadn’t bothered a soul in life,
    Always been good-natures wife.
    The bushes we’d planted an a tree.
    There was too, the bumble bee.
    Woe begotten in sobs and moans.
    Bleeding heart and rending groans.
    The crazy cobbles of my street.
    an shady haven, were my retreat.
    you know your laws in many ways
    trick or treat of endless stays
    Chained our leaders to the chairs,
    freed the hyenas from their lairs.
    One you festooned with a noose
    on a cooked-up blatant evil ruse
    and when we need the iron hand,
    to nurture our castles in the sand,
    stem the tide of marauding bands,
    our own nose is rubbed in sand.
    Wont you justice sing for me?
    Wont you do the thing for me?
    O’lord this land is your land?
    Qissakhwani to manora island
    Daughters brave em sinful eyes,
    freedom stifled in their sighs.
    Drag their heavy bags to school
    often to face an ogling drool
    Back at home in soggy chores,
    act the part ordained by lores.
    Pour on books an do their work,
    Naive to the Wry an brazen smirk.
    Grind an burn the mid night oil,
    Hoping to fetch for their toil.
    Innocent they to links an boon,
    or the might of a silver spoon.
    As they dot the road side stops
    Fodder like the standing crops
    Limos churn the dust behind
    home by dusk if the day is kind
    Gleaming cars are dark inside
    Within this flaunt, wrongs reside
    Hidden ones who “make their MARKS”
    on tender hearts that study in parks.
    Will you me’ lord plant a tree?
    Will you end the farce for me?
    Will you justice set me free?
    O, will you justice let me be?

    late feb 2009

  4. takhalus

    Rabia: the reality is that dysfunctional/garrison states breed helplessness amongst the disenfranchised..human beings when presented with limited options prefer the most predictable. So the red russians were relatively better then the white russians in the Russian civil war..Mao was better than Chiang Kai Shek or Khomeni better than the Shah are all examples. Another way of looking at it is that ideologues are usually better motivated and as such keep their promises (not for the better)..

    Unrelated, while i have the utmost respect for the success of the lawyers movement and it’s key leaders..this was not a moment of revolution..revolution implies an upstaging of the natural order in which the status quo never returns in the same paraphrase Friedman (Sic) that’s not a revolution ..that’s a party.

  5. Milind Kher

    To me, the lawyers’ movement as well as the success that it has met with signifies a step in the right direction.

    I do hope that the feeling of empowerment that is slowly emerging slowly permeates all the strata of society.

    When that happens, I am positive that Pakistan will be ready to make a great leap forward.

  6. Anwar

    Pessimism has not helped so far so I have decided to be optimistic about the success of lawyers movement. But I have during my time in Pakistan witnessed teachers successful strikes without any improvements in the quality of instruction, municipality workers strikes without any improvements in sanitation and the list goes on…
    Does CJ’s reinstatement means the magistrate will sign my domicile certificate in less than an hour or the cages full of young people near the court house will go empty? No, none of the above!
    For those who have experienced our justice system it really does not matter if the state or the lawyers win.
    Anarchy has become so much a part of our life – it will be so boring without the strikes, street blocking, rock throwing, burning… soon we may have another set of strikes, protests or long marches just to keep us entertained.
    That unfortunately is the sad part.

  7. ‘Anti-women’ Cabinet Riles Pakistan Activists
    Street protests and angry newspapers’ editorials meet the induction of Bijarani and Zehri
    Two notorious politicians accused of brutal attitudes towards women have been made cabinet ministers in Pakistan, causing outrage among human rights activists.

    Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, charged with presiding over a “jirga” which gave away five young girls as a form of compensation, and Israrullah Zehri, who recently made international headlines after defending the burying alive of women in “honor-killing” cases, have been elevated to ministerships.

    Last year the supreme court ordered the arrest of Oxford-educated Bijarani over the allegations, though he remained at liberty. He has now been made minister for education. Street protests and angry newspapers editorials met the induction of Bijarani and Zehri, who were brought in as part of a major expansion of the cabinet last week.

    “It is a very clear message from the government that they don’t care about these things,” said Samar Minallah, a human rights campaigner who had brought the court case against Bijarani. “I think they deliberately chose these two people to be ministers to send that message.”

    The practice of settling disputes by awarding girls taken from the family of those convicted by a traditional meeting of village elders in a jirga to an aggrieved party is illegal but it continues in rural parts of the country. Bijarani, a land-owner from Sindh province, is accused of heading such a jirga in 2006, in which five girls, aged between two and five, were given as compensation to the family of a murdered man.

    Bijarani, who denies the allegations, is a stalwart of the Pakistan People’s Party, an avowedly progressive party which leads the coalition government that came to power with the restoration of democracy earlier this year, following eight years of military rule under Pervez Musharraf. The government is led by Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Zardari, as president.

    “Is this the politics of appeasement?” said Tahira Abdullah, a member of rights group the Women’s Action Forum. “It almost looks like rewarding these men for their deeds against women.”

    Iqbal Haider, co-chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said: “The basic character of the cabinet is in support of honor killings. Had Benazir Bhutto been alive she would never have allowed this.”

    Bijarani claims he was acquitted by a lower court in his home province. However, it is unclear how a district court could have dismissed the case while it remains before the supreme court after Musharraf dismissed the judiciary in November last year.

    “The jirga system has to be finished slowly,” said Bijarani, appearing on a television show in recent days. “When education spreads, then it will finish.”

    Zehri, a member of Pakistan’s upper house of parliament from a minor party in the coalition, has been made minister for postal services. Earlier this year, in response to news that three teenage girls had been buried alive for trying to choose their own husbands, he told parliament it was “tribal tradition”. He later said: “These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them. Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid.”

    © Guardian News & Media 2008
    Published: 11/11/2008