Why are "ordinary" Pakistanis sitting out the anti-Musharraf protests?
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—A pack of protesting lawyers marched past Zulfiqar's juice stand two or three times on Tuesday morning, but Zulfiqar kept on squeezing fruit. The procession marked the second day of lawyer-led agitation against President Pervez Musharraf's decision to impose a state of emergency in Pakistan. Formally attired lawyers wound through the narrow alleys of an Islamabad bazaar, chanting slogans against Musharraf and the army. Police in riot gear surrounded the bazaar to prevent the protest from spilling into the streets. As the lawyers paraded past him, Zulfiqar, a skinny thirtysomething man with rotting teeth, took a halved pomegranate, smashed it onto a crude emulsifier, and made another juice for a paying customer. He said the lawyers never stopped to ask him to participate, so he never stopped working. Zulfiqar pointed to his stomach and mouth, and added in Urdu, "I need to make money to feed my family."
Earlier this year, Pakistani lawyers led a successful movement against Musharraf's decision to suspend the chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. Their movement attracted worldwide attention and, in July, succeeded in restoring Chaudhry to his post. Now they want to lead a revolution against Musharraf and the army. Can they triumph once again?
This time around, the lawyers are handicapped by the fact that most of their leaders are in jail. On Saturday night, Aitzaz Ahsan, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, called a hurried press conference at his home. He sat at an oak desk, rows of legal books stacked on shelves behind him and more than a dozen microphones crowded in front of his face. Musharraf, he said, had acted "like a spoiled child," and while clinging to power at all costs had "ruined and decimated every value in which civil society—and civilized, liberal nations—thrive." One of Ahsan's assistants interrupted the press conference to say that the police were waiting outside to arrest him. The bar association president turned to the media and promised, "The lawyers of Pakistan will not allow independent judges to be removed from their offices." Shortly afterward, Ahsan, who was wearing a gray suit with a striped tie, excused himself to change his clothes. "I should put on a shalwar kameez before I go to jail," he said. A few minutes later, police stuffed Ahsan into a paddy wagon and took him to prison.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night in Lahore, police placed Asma Jahangir, a leading human rights lawyer, under house arrest. The following morning, Musharraf's storm troopers continued their crackdown on political and legal activists when they raided the offices of Jahangir's organization, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. (As of Wednesday, more than 1,700 lawyers and politicians had been arrested in Punjab alone—just one of Pakistan's four provinces.) Jahangir's and Ahsan's detentions have been extremely significant because the anti-Musharraf movement is, at least for now, decapitated. Ahsan, who is also a senior member of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, might have been able to fuse the agendas of the lawyers and the political parties. And Jahangir could have done something similar between the lawyers and civil-society groups.
Nicholas Schmidle is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of To Live or to Perish Forever. He is a 2010 International Reporting Project fellow in Russia.
Photograph of a lawyer protesting in Pakistan by John Moore/Getty Images.