By Fiona Ehlers
A scuffle at a lawyers' rally in Multan.
They stream into the city from all over the country, wearing black suits and ties, sweating under their white shirts. They are lawyers who are refusing to be silenced -- especially now that Pakistan has a new president, is down one five-star hotel and has even more problems than before.
Until a few weeks ago, these same lawyers were chanting: "Go, Musharraf, go!" Then he went, the country's hated military dictator, after nine years in power. Now they are calling out: "What is Pakistan's new disease? Zardari, Zardari!" and "Who is at fault for Benazir's death?"
It is already clear that Zardari, the leader of the Pakistani People's Party (PPP), will never be a man of the people. For one thing, he hates their hero, the judge whose return they so persistently demand when they shout "justice for justice" and "reinstate Judge Chaudhry!"
The protesters are shouting in support of Iftikhar Chaudhry, who lives in a villa in the hills around the city. Chaudhry is Pakistan's former chief justice, but he was removed from office by Musharraf. It was Chaudhry who launched this mass protest movement, and his battle to save the Pakistani constitutional state has made him a heroic figure.
Demanding Chaudhry's Reinstatement
It's a rare moment. Chaudhry has been invisible for months, with no contact with the media and no addresses to crowds of his supporters. He was even barred from receiving visitors. He opens the sliding door to his living room, a short man with an enormous moustache, his hair dyed black, wearing a traditional robe and soft slippers. His attorneys quickly get up from the sofa, two provincial leaders of the protest movement kiss and embrace him.
Has anything changed in Pakistan since lawyers and activists first took to the streets one and a half years ago? Have they lost their courage, now that suicide bombers from the tribal regions no longer shy away from striking in Islamabad, the "City of Islam?" Yes, some things have changed in Pakistan. At least the lawyers think so, as does the country's educated middle class. They are demanding Chaudhry's reinstatement, as a symbol of a democratic new beginning. And yet these days the country seems more vulnerable than ever.
When Chaudhry began addressing sensitive issues like corruption, human rights and honor killings, Pakistanis gained a sense of what an independent judiciary could look like, and they realized that there could be no true democracy without it. A protest movement of this nature and magnitude is unprecedented in Pakistan, and it has drawn more and more people into the streets. By now it has also become a battle against the establishment, against the constant reappearance of the same faces, the same members of Pakistan's ruling feudal families.
When Musharraf appointed Chaudhry in 2005, he was viewed as a loyal lackey of the regime. But something happened to him in March 2007, when he opposed Musharraf for the first time, when he stood up to the dictator by refusing to get up from his seat in Musharraf's residence, known as Army House. That's when Pakistan's lawyer-revolution began.
The date was March 9, 2007. Musharraf had summoned Chaudhry to his house, where he accused him of corruption, of having used his influence to procure a job with the police for his son. They were the usual accusations against disagreeable members of the legal community, part of a tradition in Pakistan.
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