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'Now we have democracy, but no peace'

Sheela Bhatt in New York | July 02, 2008

Aitzaz Ahsan, Pakistan Peoples Party leader at the head of the lawyers' movement in that country, lambasted America's policy in Pakistan in New York on Tuesday.

In a touching and inspiring speech he asked how America can talk about democracy in Pakistan but not raise its voice against the illegal decision of President Pervez Musharraf [Images] to sack Pakistan's chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

At a talk hosted by the New York State Bar Association, he accused America of "purposefully" supporting Musharraf's illegal acts. Giving a detailed account of Justice Chaudhry's detention, Ahsan explained how America is supporting democracy in Pakistan without being concerned about the justice system.

Asserting that only the justice system can strengthen democracy, Ahsan explained that if the judiciary is weakened there is no middle ground in a country threatened by the Taliban and Al Qaeda [Images]. He linked the War on Terror to the US's efforts to have democracy in Pakistan, but said these efforts were not enough without an independent judiciary. "You destroy the middle ground, you destroy the bulwark of justice," he said.

He said America has a fascination for elected parliaments. "Now we have democracy. But, we don't have peace."

Musharraf: The growing siege mentality

He also said the issue of reinstating sacked judges is not part of the 'constitution package' which is under consideration. He drew the attention of America's legal fraternity to the fact that in a frontline state in the War against Terror, the justice system has been paralysed.

He said America's silence on the issue of judiciary has been noticed by the people of Pakistan.

Ahsan is leading one of the most historic lawyers' movements in Pakistan to reinstate Chief Justice Chaudhry who was forcibly retired and imprisoned by President Musharraf. Ahsan gave a detailed account of Justice Chaudhry's illegal house arrest to a distinguished audience at the New York bar association. He said, "There was not a word, not a whimper, no concern from any person in the American administration against the illegal detention."

While explaining the US's silence on the grave violation of human rights, he said, "America didn't wanted to embarrass Musharraf."

He said Chief Justice Chaudhry was detained along with his three children, one of whom is handicapped. None of them could go out, and their phone lines were cut. Their house was surrounded by barbed wire, and all doors were kept closed. Only the kitchen door was kept open for supplies. Policemen were posted all around his house.

Pakistan wakes to Emergency yet again

He said if not for the sake of Justice Chaudhry, then at least for the sake of his children America should have protested.

He thanked the bar association for its support to the lawyers' movement. The NY bar association had demonstrated against President Mushrraf's decision to sack the judges.

Ahsan, a third generation member of the legislative assembly, is one of Pakistan's distinguished lawyers. Born into a Jat family in Murree near Rawalpindi, he earned a reputation as a brilliant lawyer, as well as a shrewd politician with roots in the highly influential Punjabi politics. He was a confidant of Benazir Bhutto [Images] and was a leader in his own right. A rare leader who has shared a rapport with both Benazir and Nawaz Sharif, he has the unique distinction of successfully defending the Chief Justice Chaudhry against the Pakistan president in court in his own county.

Ahsan said, "Nowhere in the world has such a case been fought."

His son Ali is a lawyer and lives in Union Square, New York.

Ahsan was greeted by the Law teachers association, many senior lawyers of New York and of course by American politicians.

Musharraf's weakening has opened up lots of new opportunities for Ahsan who himself was imprisoned after the declaration of emergency in his country.

During his New York visit he has been invited to address Time and the Wall Street Journal's editorial teams and to appear on Charlie's Show, a sure sign perhaps that the Americans are trying to cozy up to a strongman from Pakistan.

Image: Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan and leader of the lawyers' movement in that country, spoke at the New York Bar Association on Tuesday, July 1, 2008. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

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