Today marks the anniversary of a black day in the history of Pakistan. General (retired) Musharraf imposed emergency rule in the country on November 3, 2007. The nation saw its fundamental human rights suspended under the Constitution by a controversial president. The emergency was imposed only to depose Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues who refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO). The pro-active judiciary became a threat for Musharraf as he perceived that if his presidential elections were challenged in courts, the courts would rule against him. This led him to make a pre-emptive move; thus the emergency was imposed. The media, too, suffered badly due to the emergency. The Pemra Ordinance 2002 was amended and imposed under the state of emergency. It set in motion a chain of reaction by the people from the electronic media who saw the ordinance as a draconian law to muzzle the freedom of speech. The government at that time seemed to have been baffled by the comprehensive coverage of the judicial crisis both by the print and the electronic media, which helped form public opinion. It has been a long and arduous struggle ever since. The journalists who raised their voice against the gagging of the media received threats by state and non-state actors. Though the whole world condemned Musharraf’s decision, for its own vested interest, the US turned a blind eye towards the imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan, towards the decapitation of the judiciary and curbs on the media, both print and electronic. Mere lip-service was paid to condemn these acts. Even then, the movement against emergency was highly successful.
The lawyers’ movement, which started in March 2007 following the dismissal of the CJ, was the main catalyst in reinstating Justice Chaudhry back in July 2007. The consistency showed by the lawyers’ movement demonstrated to the nation the lawyers’ commitment for the cause of an independent judiciary. The lawyers’ movement did not comprise only lawyers, it was joined in by civil society organisations and the general public at large. It was after a long time that the nation was mobilised for the cause of independence of the judiciary. Although the political parties belatedly joined the lawyers’ movement, the lawyers refused to turn their movement ‘political’, which was quite prudent. The media played a significant role in creating awareness among the public by highlighting the issue of judiciary’s independence. After the reinstatement of Justice Iftikhar, the lawyers’ movement subsided. But soon after the imposition of the emergency and the removal of more than 60 judges, the lawyers’ movement restarted. This time the lawyers were joined by the students as well. The apolitical movement gained strength, though some political parties tried to hijack this movement but did not succeed.
When the new government came into power and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani gave the orders to release all the detained judges and lawyers, including Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the public saw a ray of hope for an independent judiciary. But this did not happen. The PML-N, which won a large chunk of seats in the elections, left the coalition government because the PPP refused to restore the deposed Chief Justice. Despite the fact that late Benazir Bhutto had vowed to restore Justice Chaudhry, nothing has been done even after a whole year has passed. If Pakistan is to have a genuine democracy, the government must ensure judicial independence, as it is for the benefit of everyone in society. November 3 reminds us that eternal vigilance is the price of democratic freedoms.