Can any of us really say we’re surprised by the horde of extremist lawyers that besieged the offices of Anti-Terrorism Court judge Malik Akram Awan in Rawalpindi? Can we truly say that we have not seen the writing on the wall too many times already?
Just go back to April 25, 2009 when the case of an alleged blasphemer, Hector Aleem, was in the courts. Madrassa students were out in force outside the court premises, with the now-familiar slogans reverberating even within the courtroom itself. But the real threat came not from the religious activists but a lawyer linked to an Islamist party who allegedly warned that “if the judge does not punish Aleem according to the law, then [we] will kill him ourselves”. There can be no clearer attempt to subvert and pervert the course of justice than this brazen threat, unless, of course, we look at what happened in Rawalpindi.
Let’s not pretend to be shocked at the lawyers queuing up to defend ‘Ghazi’ Mumtaz Qadri and showering him with rose petals. In a nation with one of the highest number of lawyers per capita, these black-coated radicals are, in fact, a true reflection of our society. So let’s no longer cling to the self-placating platitude that there is a ‘silent majority’ out there that condemns the actions of the extremists, and let us not wait for them to make their voices heard.
The silent majority has spoken, and they are with the radicals, not against them. If there are indeed voices of reason among the legal fraternity, then they are too intimidated to speak out, and their silence makes them complicit.
Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that these mob tactics, with the implicit threat of violence, are now the stock in trade for a great many members of the lawyer’s community. After all, did the same approach not grant them great dividends in the much-praised lawyers' movement? At the time, the street protests and chaos were trumpeted as the start of a new era, but it didn’t take long for the lawyers themselves to begin believing in their own myth and to become drunk on the heady brew of street power.
When Ahmad Raza Kasuri’s face was blackened, many of us cheered from the sidelines. When Sher Afgan was beaten by a mob of lawyers in Lahore, it should have served as a warning that this particular genie had well and truly broken its bottle. Soon, the target shifted from PCO judges, Musharraf-linked politicians and lawyers and the police to anyone who would dare defy the fury of the mob. The media, which had so openly thrown its weight behind the lawyers’ movement, became a target as well, as did district and session judges who did not see eye to eye with the ‘thunder squads’. The more far-sighted in the lawyers’ community could see what was coming and wisely distanced themselves. Others thought that they could ride the tiger and only belatedly realised their fatal error.
It may be too late to turn back the clock, but is it too much to ask the same Supreme Court that heralded an era of judicial activism to take action against those who use the threat of violence to subvert the legal process? Are suo motu notices only to be taken against the government and are the chiefs of intelligence agencies the only ones who can be summoned before the apex court?
Like so many others, I wait for the superior judiciary to end its silence and long for the day that these lawless lawyers are called to account for their actions.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2011.
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