Pakistani Lawyers Revolt Against Martial Law

It looks like the mess in Pakistan is getting much, much uglier.

Pakistan Riots Police fired tear gas and clubbed thousands of lawyers protesting President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s decision to impose emergency rule, as Western allies threatened to review aid to the troubled Muslim nation. Opposition groups put the number of arrests at 3,500, although the government reported half that.

[…]

Public anger was mounting in the nation of 160 million people, which has been under military rule for much of its 60-year history, but demonstrations so far have been limited largely to activists, rights workers and lawyers — angered by his attacks on the judiciary. All have been quickly and sometimes brutally stamped out.

[…]

Critics say Musharraf imposed emergency rule in a last-ditch attempt to cling to power. His leadership is threatened by the Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital, the reemergence of political rival and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and an increasingly defiant Supreme Court, which has been virtually decimated in the last two days.

Since late Saturday, between 1,500 and 1,800 people have been detained nationwide, an Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. But former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s opposition party said authorities had rounded up around 2,300 of their supporters. Other political activists, human rights groups, and lawyers added another 1,200 detentions to that toll.

Lawyers — who were the driving force behind protests earlier this year when Musharraf tried unsuccessfully to fire independent-minded chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry — attempted to stage rallies in major cities on Monday, but were beaten and arrested.

Chaudhry was removed from his post on Saturday, just as the Supreme Court was preparing to rule on the validity of Musharraf’s Oct. 6 re-election. Opponents say he should be disqualified because he contested the vote as army chief.

In the biggest gathering Monday, about 2,000 lawyers congregated at the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore. As lawyers tried to exit onto a main road, hundreds of police stormed inside, swinging batons and firing tear gas. Lawyers, shouting “Go Musharraf Go!” responded by throwing stones and beating police with tree branches.

Lawyers in the eastern city of Lahore were bludgeoned with batons and then dragged onto a road in front of the high court. About 20 injured were given medical aid in a waiting ambulance before being hauled away in police buses, usually used for transporting prisoners. “Police also punched and kicked them, despite their age,” Tariq Javed Warriach, vice chairman of the Lahore Bar Council, said in reference to some of the senior lawyers. “They were treated so brutally … I’ve never seen such a thing.”

Even lawyers who were not involved in protests appeared to be targeted. One, Imran Qadi Khan, said police pulled him off a bus near Musharraf’s army office in Rawalpindi, just south of the capital, as he was heading to work. “We have been sitting here since morning,” he said from prison. “The police are not telling us anything about what they plan to do with us.” Another, Mohammad Khan Zaman, said he evaded capture by running to his nearby office. “The police arrested anyone wearing the lawyer’s uniform,” he said, referring to the profession’s trademark black suits.

Musharraf has also moved quickly to control the media, which he said was partly to blame for the current crisis. Police raided and briefly sealed a printing press belonging to Pakistan’s largest media group on Monday. They also tried to storm a press club in Karachi. Broadcasts by independent news networks remained blocked, and domestic transmissions of the BBC and CNN were off the air.

In the capital, Islamabad, hundreds of police and paramilitary troops lined roads and rolled out barbed-wire barricades on Monday to seal off the Supreme Court.

Rana Bhagwandas, a Supreme Court judge who refused to take oath under Musharraf’s proclamation of emergency orders, said that he has been locked inside his official residence in Islamabad and that other judges were being pressured to support the government. “They are still working on some judges, they are under pressure,” Bhagwandas told Geo TV in a phone interview.

At some point, calling this fellow an “ally” in our quest for “democracy” in the region is going to start sounding a bit disingenuous.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    I’m trying to think what would get lawyers marching in the streets in America. Luxury taxes on expensive cars, perhaps.

  2. Triumph says:

    At some point, calling this fellow an “ally” in our quest for “democracy” in the region is going to start sounding a bit disingenuous.

    START sounding disingenuous?!?! For any Pakistani, they remember Reagan’s close ties with General Zia-ul-Haq as the US funneled money into the country while Zia instituted policies of Islamic radicalism and arrested secularists throughout the country.

    Bush’s strong support for Musharaff’s dictatorship is just the latest in US antagonism for democracy in the country.

  3. At some point, referring to our Middle East policy as a “quest for democracy” is going to start sounding ridiculous.

    When are we going to admit that making the Middle East “safe for democracy” isn’t having any more success than a certain crusade to make the world safe for democracy did about 90 years ago ?

  4. Wayne says:

    First Americans wanted Pakistan to crack down on its dissidents. Claiming Musharaff is too soft and U.S. needs to apply pressure on him. Then when Musharaff has to crack down on some of the dissidents partly because of his ties to U.S. all of the sudden it is how can he do such a thing.

    People should be careful of what they ask for. We shouldn’t ask Musharaff to act like a dictator when it suits us but to not to when it doesn’t. We should ask him to do what he can for us within a democratic system and understand it when we don’t get what we want all the time.

  5. Triumph says:

    At some point, referring to our Middle East policy as a “quest for democracy” is going to start sounding ridiculous.

    Dude, the post is about Pakistan–not the Middle East.

  6. Triumph,

    I know that….though I sometimes wonder if the Bush Administration knows the difference.

    But the point is the same, don’t you think whether we’re talking about the M.E. as a hole or this one little corner of Southwest Asia.

  7. Anderson says:

    Dude, the post is about Pakistan–not the Middle East.

    Triumph is probably being facetious, but one has to think that similar reasoning about Afghanistan led us to ignore that country once the Soviets left.

  8. Mike says:

    I am just curious – is there a democratic government in a Muslim country? – I often think of Turkey, but I don’t know if they are a real democracy or not.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that the problems posed by Pakistan are greater even than the comments in this thread would suggest. Is Pakistan a state at all? It doesn’t even pretend to control substantial sections of its alleged territory. Is it some sort of aglomeration of cities and their surrounding territory with large areas of ungoverned territory?

    I don’t see any way we can reasonably expect something like that to behave like a state. And whatever it is it’s nuclear-armed. Very difficult.

    If you examine the comments made by the presidential candidates of both parties WRT Pakistan, it’s rather apparent that however feckless our current policy is, it’s the American policy not just the policy of the Bush Administration. There really isn’t a great deal of political hay to be made out of our Pakistan policy.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    In answer to your question, Mike, you might want to take a look at this post. There are, indeed, Muslim democracies, notably Indonesia, Mali, and Senegal, as well as Turkey.

  11. Triumph says:

    Triumph is probably being facetious, but one has to think that similar reasoning about Afghanistan led us to ignore that country once the Soviets left.

    No, I aint. Generally the Middle East stops at Persia’s boundaries.

  12. Mike says:

    Dave – thanks for the link – maybe there is hope for Pakistan and other nations.

  13. Alex Knapp says:

    I’m trying to think what would get lawyers marching in the streets in America. Luxury taxes on expensive cars, perhaps.

    I hate to break this to you, but most lawyers aren’t rich.

  14. Andy says:

    I hate to break this to you, but most lawyers aren’t rich.

    “In May 2004, the median annual earnings of all lawyers were $94,930.” From the BLS.

    They’re obviously wealthy enough to be mad about a BMW surtax.

    It’s weird how some people try to pretend that the wealthy are not wealthy.

  15. James Joyner says:

    “In May 2004, the median annual earnings of all lawyers were $94,930.” From the BLS.

    You realize that this means that half of all lawyers made less than $94,930, right?

  16. Andy says:

    You realize that this means that half of all lawyers made less than $94,930, right?

    Um, yes. And the average pay is substantially higher.

    Most lawyers (at least 50%+1) earn more than twice the median income of your average American.

    Sounds like a pretty wealthy profession to me.

    I guess if your baseline is professional athletes and corporate executives, than lawyers aren’t rich. But to most of America, they are.

  17. Andy says:

    Again, my real question is why do people try to minimize the seemingly obvious achievements of the wealthy?

  18. James Joyner says:

    Again, my real question is why do people try to minimize the seemingly obvious achievements of the wealthy?

    No doubt $94k is good money, especially in rurual areas. In the high cost of living metro areas — which have a disproportionate share of lawyers — it’s merely decent money.

    Still, it’s true that lawyers are more likely to be able to afford BMWs than those in most occupations.

  19. Andy says:

    No doubt $94k is good money, especially in rurual areas. In the high cost of living metro areas — which have a disproportionate share of lawyers — it’s merely decent money.

    Yeah, and guess what? The median salary lawyer in a high cost of living area make a lot more money than the median salary lawyer living in a rural area.

    Do you really think the median salary lawyer in DC or NYC only makes $94k?

    Lawyers are, by and large, very wealthy, no matter where they are found in the U.S.

    Again, why are you (well, Alex) trying to claim that lawyers aren’t rich?