Pakistan's Reformers Urge Reseating Judges In Pakistan, lawyers and reformers have revived their campaign to reinstate the independent-minded judges that President Pervez Musharraf fired last year. The two main parties in the new legislative coalition do not agree on reinstating the judges. The two main parties in that coalition do not agree on reinstating the judges.
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Pakistan's Reformers Urge Reseating Judges

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Pakistan's Reformers Urge Reseating Judges

Pakistan's Reformers Urge Reseating Judges

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

A large battered convoy of vehicles lurched into Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, tonight. It arrive a short time ago, late, very late local time. The convoy carried thousands of lawyers and activists who were demanding the restoration of fact judges. They called their journey a long march, though they road in cars and buses. Thousands of people were waiting to greet them.

NPR's Philip Reeves was there too.

(Soundbite of protest)

PHILIP REEVES: These people are gathered in the place where Pakistan's armed forces stage their annual parade. They're on a wide avenue in the heart of the capital, leading to parliament, the presidency and the supreme court. This time it's not the nation's army but it's lawyers who are producing a show of strength. And not only the lawyers; there's a see flags from political parties. There are community groups and civil rights activists. And there's Najim Hassan(ph). He's a retired Pakistani army major. A few years ago, Hassan was marching up and down this same street in uniform. Now he's pounding the street, brandishing a flag denouncing President Pervez Musharraf, a former army chief.

Major NAJIM HASSAN (Pakistani Army, Retired): Before I was doing a prayer to defend my country and show of force to the nation. Actually, I'm doing a prayer for the restoration of democracy and restoration of judiciary.

REEVES: Like everyone here, Hassan has come to demand the restoration of judges sacked by Musharraf. And like almost everyone, he has a second demand. He wants Musharraf out of office and put on trial.

(Soundbite of protest)

REEVES: That's the same cry Pakistan's lawyers used when they first mobilized last year. They did so after Musharraf suspended the chief justice, a move widely seen is the opening salvo in a campaign by Musharraf to stop the courts blocking his re-election. Back then the contours of the conflict were clear. The lawyers were confronting a military ruler who'd interfered with the judiciary to suit his own ends. Now it's a little more complicated.

(Soundbite of protest)

REEVES: Musharraf was the target of all the rhetoric today. But a new democratically elected coalition government is in power in Pakistan. Musharraf's been sidelined. The job of restoring the judiciary rests with the government and parliament, not Musharraf, and in particular with the ruling coalition party, the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party. In March, that party's leader, Bhutto's widower - Asif Zardari - signed an agreement to restore the judges. Then Zardari broke it, saying he wanted to restore the judges but only as part of a larger package of constitutional reforms. So now the lawyers have taken to the streets again. (Unintelligible) said the rally was intended to pressure Zardari to keep his word.

Major HASSAN: Then Mr. Zardari has promised to nation that he will restore the judges in 30 days. We ask this question, why he is not keeping his promise.

REEVES: Most protesters though were reluctant to be quite so explicit. Many come from the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. That party officially supports Zardari's, although the partnership's under growing strain. Pru Kahn(ph) says he came to today's rally just because he's a concerned citizen. He says Sharif's people are in a tricky position because they don't for now want to do anything that might bring down the new government.

Mr. PRU KAHN (Protester): (Unintelligible) walking in a tight rope between not doing so much that gives the chance to the forces - the dictatorial forces, the army to come in again, and making enough of a pressure on Zardari especially to actually go ahead and to restore the chief justice.

REEVES: It's too soon to judge the lasting political impact of the lawyers' long march - whether it's the lawyers' last hoorah or whether it spells the end for Musharraf. The majority of the protesters are lawyers or party activists, but Seril Kouny(ph) describes himself as a curious passerby who dropped in just to have a look at today's demonstration. He's one of the few who had anything positive to say about Musharraf. But even he thinks the president will have to go soon.

Mr. SERIL KOUNY: You know, one must give credit to Musharraf. Musharraf did a lot of good things, but he was a man who seized power through illegal means. And this is a people's government and he has to pay the price now because these people want blood.

REEVES: Others don't so much want blood as solutions to problems like rising fuel prices and power cuts and inflation. And four months after the election, they're still waiting for their new leaders in Pakistan to start governing.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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