The History and Continuing Influence of Pakistan’s Lawyers’ Movement


The summer of 2008 brought the usual blistering heat to Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf, an army general who had become president through a coup d’etat eight years earlier, led by edict in a country little used to democracy and often subject to the heavy yet firm hand of military rule. Despite the predictable heat, the streets of Karachi thronged with thousands of lawyers clad in the traditional black robes of Pakistan’s judiciary. Some chanted slogans for the release of Supreme Court Chief Justice, Ifthikar Mohammad Chaudhry, who had been under house arrest since 2007. Others maligned Musharraf, their white banners of protest distorted by the shimmering heat.

In March 2007, Chaudhry, who had been bolstering the judiciary’s independence and severing its traditionally close ties with the President, had been removed from office by Musharraf, after resisting army pressure to resign. The event led to nationwide protests, inspiring a 24-month movement led by the lawyers of Pakistan that successfully returned Chaudhry to his position as Chief Justice and restored over fifty other judgeswho had sided with Chaudhry to their previous offices. For many Pakistanis, the movement’s success represented an important sign of increasing judicial empowerment in a nation where courts had long followed the dictates of either the ruling elite or the military…

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