DR. RIFFAT HASSANOn February 18, 2008, despite all the Machiavellian plans devised and implemented by General Musharraf’s government to subvert and divert the cause of justice, the voice of the people of Pakistan rang out loudly and clearly in support of this cause. One must thank the Almighty for this act of grace which saved our country from further devastation at the hands of a despot whose megalomania has reached cosmic proportions. But one must also thank those leaders who took an unswerving stand for justice - whether like Mian Nawaz Sharif they took part in the elections, or like Aitzaz Ahsan, Imran Khan and the A.P.D.M. members they withdrew from the process. These leaders who, at great personal risk and cost, make an ethical issue the centre-piece of their struggle, provided visionary and courageous leadership to a nation that was sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of hopelessness and helplessness. By their words and deeds, they have inspired and empowered the suffering masses – “the silent majority” – of Pakistanis as no mere political rhetoric could have ever done. The mobilization of civil society that has occurred because of the efforts made by them – the first in the living memory of most Pakistanis - is the most hopeful development that has taken place in Pakistan almost since its inception.
The gravity of the problems that Pakistan has to face today is known to all thinking citizens. There are multiple complex challenges that have to be confronted in every sphere of life. The systematic manipulation of executive power by an increasingly ruthless military dictator in order to maintain and extend his authority at any cost, has done untold damage to the very fabric of Pakistani society. In whichever direction one looks one sees ruin – a breakdown of institutions which are pivotal to any civilized society, an erosion of moral values essential for the development of a self-respecting nation, a dissipation of precious dreams and hopes without which no country can evolve or advance.
The mandate that Mian Nawaz Sharif has received from the people has put a very heavy mantle of responsibility on his shoulders. So much is expected from him – not only that he will rectify the wrongs that have been done in the political, economic, social and other spheres of everyday life – but that he will make a fractured, broken nation whole emotionally, mentally and morally. This is a formidable task for any leader, especially for one who was forced to live in exile for many years and whose family was subjected to extreme hardship. But the fact that God has elected him for this task, the fact that God enabled him to return to Pakistan despite huge impediments and obstacles, makes it his religious and moral obligation to live up to the ideal of a leader – referred to by Allama Iqbal as “Mard-e-Haqq” or “Mard-e-Momin” - who represents the highest ideals and best practices of Islam.
Aitzaz Ahsan is a person of amazing versatility and talents. His brilliance and diligence as a lawyer has long been recognized. However, since he undertook to represent the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhry in March 2007, he has become much more than a lawyer or a political leader. He has become the symbol of the “mujahid” who pursues the quest for justice in the face of formidable odds.
The Honourable Chief Justice has immortalized himself by refusing to submit to the dictates of a “zalim sultan.” His courage and conviction and refusal to surrender even when Pharaonic actions were taken against him and his family, including his young children - something that has no precedent in history – made him a beacon of light for thousands of people who had lost all hope of ever finding justice in Pakistan. However, Aitzaz Ahsan - with his intense dedication, energy, and passion – has played a pivotal role in making the cause of the Honourable Chief Justice the rallying-point of a nation that the gallant lawyers’ movement awakened from a state of death-like dormancy. By doing what he has done, and is continuing to do, he has secured his place in history.
Imran Khan has phenomenal achievements to his credit. A legendary sportsman, he has followed in the footsteps of Muhammad Ali who has become larger than life through the work he has done to give hope and help to countless persons in critical circumstances. One cannot forget the massive effort undertaken by him to raise consciousness about cancer, the deadly disease that killed his beloved mother, and gather the community support that enabled him to establish The Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, an outstanding medical facility which provides free treatment to disadvantaged patients. A social reformer par excellence in the core of his being, Imran Khan gave up a life of luxury and ease in the West, and returned to Pakistan to initiate “Tehrik-e-Insaaf” – a movement for justice.
Imran Khan’s profound commitment to justice has been exemplified in the way he has responded to the havoc wrought upon Pakistan’s judicial system by General Musharraf who removed the Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan and his worthy colleagues so that their unworthy successors appointed by him would legitimize his past, present and future, crimes. Imran Khan did whatever was humanly possible for him to do. He tried to mobilize youth which idolize him. He participated in all kinds of protests and suffered all kinds of punishments, including being jailed. He went to the U.S. – the greatest supporter of General Musharraf – and talked to many groups and policy makers to inform them of Pakistan’s rapidly deteriorating situation and urge them to live up to their own professed ideals of democracy and justice. Imran Khan went to England – a country where many still regard him as an icon – and demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister’s residence when General Musharraf was visiting the country. Thanks must also be given to Jemima Khan who demonstrated her love for Pakistan and for the cause of justice by her ongoing ardent participation in the movement for the liberation of our country from the evil rule of a Western-backed military tyrant.
Mian Nawaz Sharif, Aitzaz Ahsan, and Imran Khan now stand at the centre of an historic movement. They also stand at the threshold of the opening of a new chapter in Pakistan’s politics. All of them are political leaders in their own different ways with their respective party loyalties. In the coming days they may have to make some crucial decisions with regards to their priorities. At this time it is very likely that a strong pressure will be put on them to focus on what Asif Ali Zardari has referred to as “the larger perspective” and not insist on the restoration of the pre-November 3, 2007 judiciary as their first priority.
There will be many who may advise them to be a part of, or to support, the new parliamentary set-up and assure them that in due course of time, the parliament will review the issue of the restoration of the judges through setting up committees etc. It is very easy to be seduced by such advice and assurance which takes away the burden of continuing an uphill struggle. However, the Qur’an – the highest source of authority for us – makes the pursuit of justice mandatory in all circumstances, as clearly and emphatically stated by Surah 4: An-Nisa’ : 135 :
O ye who believe!
Stand out firmly
For justice, as witnesses
To Allah, even as against
Yourselves, or your parents,
Or your kin, and whether
It be (against) rich or poor:
For Allah can best protect both.
Follow not the lusts
(Of your hearts), lest ye
Swerve, and if ye
Distort (justice) or decline
To do justice, verily
Allah is well-acquainted
With all that ye do.
The Honourable Chief Justice and his venerable colleagues have borne the undiluted fury of an unscrupulous, callous ruler without flinching. The strength and steadfastness that they have shown, as the nation has struggled through the dark night of the soul, has kept the light of hope alive amongst millions in Pakistan and elsewhere. At this time, thousands are looking toward Mian Nawaz Sharif, Aitzaz Ahsan, Imran Khan and other like-minded leaders, to fulfil the commitment they have made to the people of Pakistan that they will work ceaselessly to right the grievous wrong that has been done. If the crucial issue of the restoration of the deposed judges is allowed to be put on the back burner in the interests of “the larger perspective” and its review is relegated to committees, the momentum that our valiant freedom-fighters have built up in their respective movements will be lost forever. As Shakespeare said with ominous insight:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat.
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Before Mian Nawaz Sharif, Aitzaz Ahsan, and Imran Khan is the shining example of Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e’Azam, two visionaries – incidentally both lawyers - who were responsible for the creation of Pakistan. The spiritual and political founder of Pakistan both believed that politics had to be grounded in ethics, and that moral principles must not be compromised on grounds of political expediency. By answering the call of God and the people to uphold the cause of justice - hard as it may seem at this time – their gain both in this world and in the hereafter will be much greater than if they walk away from this awesome responsibility.
(The writer is a Professor, specializing in Islamic Studies and Iqbal Studies, who teaches in the United States, and also heads The Iqbal International Leadership Institute.