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Q&A: “Musharraf Should Be Tried for High Treason”

Bankole Thompson interviews SAHIBZADA ANWAR HAMID

Detroit, Michigan, Oct 22 2008 (IPS) - Sahibzada Anwar Hamid is the former vice president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. One of three imprisoned leaders of the Pakistan Lawyers’ Movement, the group whose advocacy for an independent judiciary against the interference of former Gen. Pervez Musharraf helped to oust the former military dictator from power.

Sahibzada Anwar Hamid Credit: Bankole Thompson/IPS

Sahibzada Anwar Hamid Credit: Bankole Thompson/IPS

IPS correspondent Bankole Thompson spoke with Hamid in downtown Detroit Oct. 18, where he was briefing the U.S. National Lawyers Guild (NLG) convention about the current democratic process in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Supreme Court advocate called for a new and sound U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan, denied criticism that his group has lost its mission among the Pakistani people, said Musharraf should face trial, and gave his take on the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

IPS: It is being said that the present parliament owes its existence to the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaundry for saying “no resignation”. What do you think? SAH: Basically, if Iftikhar Muhammad Chaundry had not resisted the pressure exerted upon him [to] resign his post, the movement of the lawyers would not have started. And because of the movement of the lawyers, a very strong military dictator, Gen. Musharraf, who could not be uprooted by the political parties, [was ousted]. And when members of civil society joined the struggle of the lawyers, it became a big movement. Definitely the credit of uprooting and making Gen. Musharraf resign I give to the lawyers’ community.

IPS: Is the lawyers’ movement retreating from the cause? There is criticism that it seems to be floundering and the various Black Days observed seem to go unnoticed. Even the media seems to have lost interest. What’s your reaction? SAH: No, it is not so. If you look at the newspapers of Pakistan, they all cover. The media has been a great source of our strength and it is still covering all the news items of the lawyers. And I don’t think till such time as we are able to create an entirely independent judiciary and we are able to strengthen it also, the movement of the lawyers will stop. It will continue. In a democratic setup, there are people who are for it, there are people who are against it. So by saying that some people criticise us, it hardly matters.

IPS: But at one point, the whole of Pakistan had pinned their hopes on the “black coats” – somehow there is the impression that they let the people down. Don’t you agree? SAH: No. This is entirely a wrong impression. If at all the public of Pakistan believe somebody, that is lawyers, because lawyers have got no personal interest. They don’t have to get any seats in the assembly. What the lawyers do is for the betterment of the public at large. I still recollect when we were taking out processions and people used to join us, they always used to tell us they had come on the call of lawyers and not on the call of politicians because politicians have always not fulfilled their commitments, their promises made to the public.

IPS: Do you think the judges taking their oaths is a betrayal of the reformists’ cause? SAH: Well, what I feel is that these judges who have taken oath, they have taken oath under the constitution. But most of the lawyers think there was no need for taking a new oath when they were already under oath previously. There was no requirement of oath and they further think that if they had kept unity within themselves it would have easier for the lawyers’ community to have all the judges of the courts restored to their original positions.

But in any case there is a section of society of lawyers who say there is no harm in taking a fresh oath. There is always in a democratic country, a difference of opinion. But it doesn’t mean there is any division among the lawyers.

IPS: The present leadership’s political affiliations seem to have polarised the lawyers and resulted in cracks in the movement. Even the Pakistan Bar Council has disassociated itself from the movement. What’s your comment? SAH: The Pakistan Bar Council has not disassociated itself from the movement. It has deferred in the methodology of our protest. They say since lawyers have suffered a lot and regular strikes will further be causing a financial drain on them and therefore the methodology of staying away from the court should be changed to other forms of protests. So far as the Peoples’ Party government is concerned, it has always said that they want all the judges to be restored. And they are working on it. They have never said that the other remaining judges could not be restored.

IPS: The leaders keep saying the movement will only end after the restoration of Chief Justice Chaundry. Is there a time frame, a plan how that can be accomplished? SAH: We could not give a time plan for removal of the president [Musharraf] and obviously you know he had to resign under the pressure of the lawyers and the public, which of course was also supported by political parties. So no time limit can be given, and we’ve seen in Pakistan there is always radical change. In any case, the prime minister has stated in parliament that all the judges will be restored.

IPS: Is the movement going to push for Gen. Musharraf to face trial? SAH: This is what our demand is: that he should be tried under Article 6A of the constitution for high treason for subverting the constitution.

IPS: Will this government try Musharraf or is it too risky? SAH: Well, I have not spoken to the prime minister. But the demand of the lawyers to our political government is that it should hold trial under Article 6A of the constitution. Ninety-nine percent of the masses are deadly against Musharraf because they feel that he is the usurper.

IPS: Both U.S. presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, have contended that Pakistan needs to do more on the war on terrorism. Do you agree? SAH: They should first look at the ground realities there. Daily you look at how many of our forces, police officers, innocent people are being killed. Isn’t that a glaring proof that Pakistan is doing its best?

If you look up the Pakistani newspapers you’ll find so many news items about terrorist attacks. There are also vested interests that do not want America to come out of this crisis – to resolve it amicably. If America remains involved, there is a complete drain of capital from America by spending on this war. Obviously, people of America will suffer. People of our country are already suffering. [One] dollar has gone from 60 to 80 Rupees in Pakistan and you can really imagine people are withdrawing their investments because there is no stability.

IPS: So what should the U.S. foreign policy priority be toward Pakistan? SAH: I have found American people to be excellent and loving. In my view, what I feel is that the government of Pakistan should be given free hand to deal with terrorism. The soldier who is on the forefront knows when to fire and where to fire. Effort should be made to give aid not only for fighting the war on terrorism but for development of those areas.

If people get education, employment they would stop getting aid from anti-Pakistan/American forces because the basic problem of those areas is poverty. Those are almost barren hills. Once we provide them with factories, hospitals amenities of life, they would not like them to be damaged.

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