Pakistan needs strong judiciary for stability: Aitzaz Ahsan's Talk at Harvard

Pakistan needs strong judiciary for stability

News: July 25, 2008; Author: Beth Maclin , Communications Assistant;
Belfer Centre, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

The United States should change its tactics in Pakistan to win the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar president, Aitzaz Ahsan, said recently.

Rather than looking at Pakistan through the "war on terror" lens, Ahsan suggested that the United States focus on winning over the local population. "If the local population looks at you as a tyrant, you have given up your most effective weapons," he said.

Ahsan is a leader of Pakistan's lawyers' movement, which began in response to President Pervez Musharraf's suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry from his position on March 9, 2007. Despite Parliament unanimously reinstating Chaudhry in July 2007, Musharraf continued attacks against the judiciary by arresting Chaudry again and by removing and arresting 59 judges and thousands of lawyers between November 2007 and February 2008. Many of these cases have not yet been resolved, despite the power change in Pakistan's parliament.

Ahsan discussed what is needed to fix the country's dire judicial situation earlier this month at a seminar hosted by the Project on Managing the Atom and the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Pakistan must have a fearless, independent judiciary in order to be a stable and sound democracy, according to Ahsan.

"The judiciary must begin to be reconstructed by the reinstatement of the independent chief justice and judges," Ahsan said. "They have been prevented from performing their functions and they must be facilitated in returning to their posts and begin to perform their function and to impart justice," he said.

This creates a problem for Pakistan, but also the United States, because it makes it harder to have an invested local population. He said the United States could actually aid their cause by coming out in support of an independent judiciary.

Ahsan said that the local population needs to be "equipped with enforceable rights, which means a justice system it has confidence in." He explained that without a justice system the local population believed in, those rights could not enforced and therefore, the population will not be invested in the success of the system.

If "you deny a people an independent justice system, you actually contribute the people to the adversaries who promises a rough kind of justice," he said.

"At the same time, you must remember that if you arrest 60 of the independent judges and there is no recourse or reinstatement," Ahsan said, "which judge in Pakistan will be independent if he has the horrible example that Pervez Musharaff has made of the chief justice and his children in front of him? Which judge will ever be independent?"

Ahsan said that the lawyers' movement was the voice of opposition against Musharraf's actions because the opposition political leaders were in exile. "It was the lawyers who had taken up the battle cry against Pervez Musharaff when there was a barren and desolate political landscape," he said.

Yet even after Pakistan's exiled leaders returned and elections were held, which "sacked" Musharraf, the 60 senior and independent judges, who were arrested and removed from their posts, have not been reinstated.

"The lawyers' movement, itself, waited upon the leadership and the new parliament to reinstate the judges," Ahsan said. The leaders of the two major parties which make up the coalition signed the Bhurban accord, which promised the judges' reinstatement by April 30, 2008. "However, the thirtieth of April passed. The judges were not reinstated. A new deadline was assumed and agreed upon. The judges are still not reinstated."

The Project on Managing the Atom is housed within the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

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