Pakistanis Rejoice Over Restoration of Justice
By SABRINA TAVERNISE, New York Times, March 17, 2009
ISLAMABAD — It was a day of rejoicing, of drum playing, and of smiling at strangers. Pakistan’s chief justice had just been reinstated after a two-year struggle, and for those assembled in the country’s capital to celebrate, anything seemed possible.
“We’re watching history,” said Javed Ali Khan, a 45-year-old who had traveled for days with his wife and six children to participate in a national march of lawyers and opposition political parties that came to an abrupt end on Monday when the lawyers demands were met.
Samir Ali, 3, was sitting atop his father’s shoulders, waving a tiny Pakistani flag. “We are so happy,” said his father, a taxi driver, grinning and gesturing at his son. “See his face? He’s happy too.”
In the crowd, whose members included a radio announcer who was researching homosexuality and an illiterate mechanic who wore a flower pot on his head to stay cool and admitted to stealing monkeys to get by, one word was on everybody’s lips.
“Justice,” said Mr. Khan’s wife, Rubina Javed, smiling broadly. “We came for justice.”
The word was apt for the victory at hand: the restoration of the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, to his court. But others in a jubilant crowd celebrating on Mr. Chaudhry’s lawn on Monday were working from a broader interpretation.
“Justice is the solution to the common man’s problems,” Ms. Javed said, seated on a blue scarf on the grass with two daughters and four sons, ages 6 to 18, around her. “I want justice in schools, on roads, in transportation. Now the common man is speaking.”
In the Arab world, the word is a constant companion. Islamic political movements use it in struggles against autocrats, arguing that justice is a central tenet of Islam.
But in Pakistan, the political class comes from a powerful feudal elite, which has largely avoided policies that would bring greater social equality, like land reform. With only half of the population literate, so far the strategy has worked.
“The ruling elite can get away with anything,” said Muhammad Ali, a software engineer. “They are like kings here.”
But the lawyers’ movement may be starting to change that. Though small in number, it is made up of an educated, diverse cross section of Pakistani society that includes lower middle class professionals, whose reach may extend deeper into Pakistan’s 160 million population than initially expected.
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