Defending the Rule of Law in Pakistan
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Posted by: Joseph Libertelli
On March 3, the School of Law hosted "Defending the Rule of Law in Pakistan” in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area (ACLU–NCA) and the National Lawyers’ Guild. The event featured two of the fearless leaders of the Pakistani lawyers’ movement whose dramatic demonstrations demanding adherence to the rule of law in Pakistan were captured by international news and were highlighted by a Washington Post cover photo. Art Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU-NCA, and Ryan Hancock of the National Lawyers’ Guild provided legal and political context while Pakistani attorneys Hamid Khan and Sahibzada Anwar Hamid, assisted by Pakistani-American attorney activist Shahid Buttar, provided the briefing. The event was attended by more than 70 Washington lawyers and human rights activists.
Khan a constitutional scholar and lawyer, had represented the deposed Supreme Court judges - all of whom were still under house arrest. Hamid is a recent Vice President of the Supreme Court Bar association. Together they gave a short political and legal history of Pakistan and described the events leading up to the sacking of the Supreme Court. One of the precipitating cases/causes of the sacking was the Supreme Court's invalidation of the "pennies on the dollar” sale of the main Pakistani steel enterprise to cronies of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf; another was their invalidation of what would have been an environmentally disastrous development that would have cut down ten million trees. The final straw was when Musharraf learned that the majority of the Court was about to find that he was not legally eligible to run for president while remaining Commander in Chief of the military. The law specified a two-year hiatus.
Hamid himself was arrested illegally, kept in jail for 14 days, and has scars on his face from being beaten. In response to questions from the audience, both said that the lawyers would not back down and they explained that they are protected, and have been allowed to travel, because public sentiment is strongly with them at the moment.
The attorneys maintained that Musharraf's main source of support is the U.S. and that he actually engineered several incidents to make it look like Pakistan is much more of a hotbed for fanaticism than it really is. These included greatly inflating the vote for two religious parties in a previous election; allowing the escalation of a hostage crisis where weapons were somehow smuggled into the situation, which took place one block from the ISI headquarters (that's the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA, FBI, local red squads, NSA, etc., combined); and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, which took place in the town of the main Army Intelligence headquarters and featured a sniper, a bomber and another shooter. They said most Pakistanis believe the ISI was involved.
Sahibzada Anwar Hamid, Shahid Buttar, and Art Spitzer