Aitzaz Ahsan has arrived

Editorial: Aitzaz Ahsan’s journey to the top
Daily Times, December 15, 2007

As hundreds of lawyers protested for the nth time on The Mall in Lahore on Thursday, Mrs Bushra Aitzaz, wife of Mr Aitzaz Ahsan, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president, told the rally that Mr Ahsan had decided to withdraw from the January 2008 general elections on a safe seat in Lahore in “the best interest of the lawyers and the nation”. This “sacrifice” has marked another high point in civil society’s angry response to the Emergency and the subjection of the judiciary to the PCO. The SCBA has urged all lawyers, NGOs, students and the public to go to the civil courts on Saturday when its president Mr Ahsan, will withdraw his nomination papers. Earlier, Mr Ahsan, as president of SCBA, had suggested a flexible approach to the matter of the restoration of the Supreme and High Courts’ judges affected by the PCO. Indeed, he had suggested in an open letter that if the PPP, JUI and PMLN — in short all the major parties — decided to go for the elections, the lawyers should call off their boycott. But as the pressure grew from his lawyers’ community he decided to alter his approach. It was a case of the leader responding to the sincerity and steadfastness of the movement he was leading. The lawyers’ community has shown an extraordinary and unprecedented consistency in its protest against the Musharraf establishment. It was led initially by a dismissed chief justice of the Supreme Court with Mr Ahsan by his side; now it is led by Mr Ahsan who has journeyed finally to the top of his profession.

Mr Ahsan was always considered one of the few top lawyers of Pakistan. He showed his talent once again when representing the fired chief justice at the Supreme Court. One can say that he swung a divided bench in favour of his client single-handedly because of his mastery of the political context in which the case was being heard and — above all — his meticulous reading of the text of the presidential reference against Justice Chaudhry. The bench was so disappointed with the contents of the reference and so burdened by the political pressure built up by Mr Ahsan that it decided to reinstate the chief justice. The events that followed in the wake of this reinstatement have been very significant. Above all, the case won by Mr Ahsan undermined the confidence of the government and lured it into a completely negative view of the Supreme Court judges hearing a number of petitions against actions taken by it. The Emergency and the PCO were the outcome of it all, triggering a crisis from which the regime has not yet recovered.

But even if one disagrees with the politics of boycott by an elitist minority when the organic and mass based political parties are all for contesting, one can understand Mr Ahsan’s decision to stand down from the elections in light of the events that have unfolded after the imposition of Emergency. The tempo of the build-up of public reaction has made him decide in favour of a boycott in the same way it has made the establishment recoil from its tough position by announcing the removal of Emergency and the PCO, and possibly even a suspension of the local bodies. The constitutional ban on people becoming prime ministers for the third time was also thought to remain intact until the Constitution was to be amended. Now the whispers in Islamabad are that the government may be ready to remove all these disabilities directly affecting the coming elections.

Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan has had a brilliant career. Now he has arrived. It is time he joined hands with like minded people to launch a new political party that is spurred by the youthful ideals of a new generation of urban Pakistanis and is able to offer a genuinely democratic and reformist agenda, otherwise this great goodwill will be squandered at the altar of fatigue and cynicism and we will all be the poorer for it. *


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