My favourite Superheroes: the Judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan

Liminal: at a boundary or transitional point between two conditions, stages in a process, or ways of life.

Pervez Musharraf, the President of Pakistan declared a state of emergency in the nation yesterday. This declaration has come with many changes to Pakistani life: the Constitution has been suspended and a Provisional Constitution Order implemented in its place, news stations have been shut down, mobile networks jammed, and human rights activists and protestors jailed away.

From all appearances, this is a depressing tale. Pakistan has been a military dictatorship for the last eight years, and for the past several months has been increasingly hostile towards any form of political dissent. Yet the fact that dissent still remains, fills me with hope. The stamina of Pakistani protest is incredible, and slowly but surely this dissent is reshaping Pakistan’s political landscape. Yesterday’s events are very discouraging, but when you examine the Pakistani political landscape a bit closer, you can spot tiny but resolute tendrils of a different Pakistan growing bit by bit.

The seeds for change were planted last summer. To be more specific, they began growing on March 9th 2007, when President Musharraf suspended Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry (Pakistan’s Chief Justice) because his legal judgements and cases were seen to threaten the Pakistani state (Mr Chaudhry asked tough questions like: where do all the people who disappear suddenly GO?)

Making legal judgements according to the law rather than the whims and desires of the Pakistani army (i.e-having the nerve to run an independent judiciary) was apparently sufficient grounds for an government inquiry into Mr Chaudhry, as well as his house arrest. When this happened, lawyers across the nation exploded onto the streets to protest the government’s interference in the rule of law. Mr Chaudhry was eventually released, and the country was perhaps irrevocably shaken in the process.

When he was finally able to move around freely, Mr Chaudhry was invited to speak to the Lahore High Bar Association. Thousands of miles away in Vancouver, I waited tensely and watched Pakistani news channels showing his car inching along from Islamabad to Lahore; a journey of 4-5 hours that took more than twenty two hours in total because of the sheer mass of people who came out to support him along the way. When he finally arrived, his exhaustion was evident, but the strength and honesty in his voice unmistakable. The combination of the passion of the lawyers in the crowd, the truth and courage of Mr Chaudhry’s words, and the overwhelming power of the individual to resist tyranny, brought me to tears.

Now, with Pakistan in a ‘state of emergency’, Mr Chaudhry and the rest of the Supreme Court have showed their courage once again. Yesterday the Judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the Constitution’s suspension illegal, and shortly thereafter, were arrested from the court and replaced with new judges, some of who took oath under the new PCO, and others who didn’t.

I find this intriguing. When the consequences of dissent are clear, where does one find the inner muscles to dissent anyway? Pakistan’s military dictatorship has demonstrated time and time again that it has the audacity to interfere with the independent judiciary, and civil society in general, and yet people dissent anyway. Why? Where does such courage and determination and strength come from? How does it develop? In the case of the Supreme Court for example, Pakistan’s Chief Justice knows first hand what Musharraf is capable of, and yet in spite of knowing the personal consequences of his actions, he is still fiercely committed to the principles of truth and justice that are embodied in the principles of law.

He inspires me, and I’m not the only one. In the words of Ayaz Amir, a writer for Dawn, Pakistan’s most popular English Daily (speaking about Mr Chaudhry’s behaviour this summer):

“Justice Chaudhry’s role in this crisis is pivotal and enormous. But for his courage and steadfastness the torch we see burning on the horizon would not have been lit. This movement which has already altered the political landscape would not have started. Lawyers, the heroes of this movement, would not have been galvanized into action. Political parties would not have stirred from their sleep. Excitement allied to a sense of expectation would not have filled the air.”

In other words, Justice Iftikhar (and others like him) have become a symbol for what Pakistan could-and should be.

My last post said that working towards global solutions is not simply about writing papers. Today, I say working towards global solutions is about individual actions. It is about the actions of Pakistani lawyers who protest violations against judicial freedoms, it is about the actions of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry who stuck to his principles despite overwhelming pressure to do the opposite, and it is about local journalists who continue to raise their voice despite repeated government attempts to crush their pens. It is also about NGOs that remain in nations long after international media has moved on and citizens of the West have lost interest in the ‘story of the day’.

In sum, working towards global solutions is about people of truth and honesty and courage that demonstrate every day that dictatorship and political suppression is possible, but no ruler can crush the will of a people and the desire to stand up for what is good and true.

What do terry readers think?

Recommended Links to Learn More:
Guardian Unlimited
Al Jazeera English

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Shagufta is a UBC Political Science graduate with a passion for interdisciplinary thinking, writing, travel, reading, tea, and interesting conversations. She hopes to combine all of these things in her life work someday. For now though, she studies social policy and planning at the University of Toronto and shares her adventures in and out of the classroom at