Saturday, December 8, 2007

Congressmen show support for lawyers and the movement

By Khalid Hasan

Compared to just two congressman who turned up on Wednesday to listen to the image repair team led by Dr Nasim Ashraf on Capitol Hill, a parallel meeting organised by a coalition of Pakistani-American organisations attracted seven congressmen and a senator who delivered fiery speeches calling for the supremacy of the rule of law in Pakistan.The 'Pakistan Day on the Hill' was organised by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens led by the Asian American Network against Abuse of Human Rights (ANAA) and made up of seven like-minded organisations. They were addressed by a bipartisan group of legislators namely Representatives Harry E Mitchell, Zoe Lofgren, Bill Delahunt, Steve J Israel, Nita Lowey, Trent Franks, Nick Joe Rahall, and Senator Claire McCaskell.

Malik praised: Lofgren called for the restoration of the deposed judges and expressed praise for former Supreme Court Bar Association president Munir Malik, who was his classmate at a US law school. He recalled that Malik had left a lucrative career in this country to return to Pakistan. He said the way lawyers had been treated in Pakistan was an outrage. He reminded Pakistanis that the voice of Bush is not the voice of all America. He called for free and fair elections in Pakistan and the restoration of the rule of law.
Lofgren said, "How can a nation fight terrorism unless it respects the due process of law. She said what the lawyers of Pakistan have done has become a role model for everyone, and not necessarily in Pakistan, but everywhere else. She said the United States should not base its policy on the basis of short-term gain and temporary alliances. She observed that the US has failed the people of Pakistan as it has fallen short of upholding its own standards. The people of Pakistan, she added, are not extremists and they deserve support in their democratic struggle.

'Epic' democratic struggle: Delahhunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the people of Pakistan are engaged in an epic democratic struggle. He said he was a lawyer by profession himself, adding, "and I am so proud of Pakistani lawyers for speaking up. It bespoke well of this noble profession because they showed courage and honoured the very spirit of law." He declared, "Let me assure Pakistan's lawyers that we will stand by them and we will continue to monitor the situation. The real Unite States will stand up for human rights.
Rep Lowey, who chairs the powerful appropriations committee, recalled her visit to Pakistan this summer but confessed that she was taken aback by the events of November 3 when a state of emergency was declared by Gen (r) Musharraf. She said she "passionately" feels about the issue of democracy in Pakistan and supports those waging the present struggle.
Rep Israel said voices of dissent in Pakistan are being "squelched". In his view, the reinstatement of the judiciary is "very important." He compared the new oath taken by some Pakistani judges to an oath taken in October 1936 by German judges, in which they expressed their allegiance not to the German constitution but to Adolf Hitler. "If you lose your judges, you lose your freedom. For society to progress, an independent judiciary is a must." He said he had visited Pakistan with a congressional delegation and met Musharraf, who had asked Congress to "support me". That, he added, made it clear "that Musharraf was placing himself over his people."
Rep Franks called Pakistan a vital and crucial US partner in the fight against terrorism. The people of Pakistan are committed to the rule of law and constitutional government. Musharraf, he added, had done some good things but he had made a "terrible error" by destabilising the constitution and the very foundations of Pakistan. It is not a good situation, he added, in a\ncountry with a nuclear arsenal that can be seized by the wrong people, although Pakistan's nuclear weapons are well protected for the present. He called for "government by law not by whim."
Rep Rahall called Pakistan a friend and ally in the war on terror. "What should be important to America is the country, not the individual," he stressed –a reference to Bush's support for President Musharraf. He regretted the firing of Pakistani judges and said that no American president, regardless of how much he disliked some judges, could fire them. The American people would not allow that. Senator McCaskell told the meeting that there could be no freedom without the rule of law. She said America wants a strong relationship with Pakistan, but with a Pakistan that respects the rule of law. She assured those struggling for democracy that "we stand with you shoulder to shoulder".

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