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The crowd of New York lawyers gathered to hear Aitzaz Ahsan, president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, was of a calmer sort than the masses he is accustomed to addressing at home. They did not declare their unbending allegiance to his cause, nor did they appear prepared to march for miles in the scalding heat to demonstrate their dedication. But the New York City Bar Association did greet the leader of the Pakistan Lawyers’ Movement with a thunderous standing ovation as he took the podium on July 1 to deliver a speech on judicial independence in Pakistan. [Click here for video of Ahsan's speech] Ahsan’s reception is emblematic of U.S. attorneys’ general response to the Pakistani lawyers’ movement: enthusiastic and supportive, without direct involvement. A few lawyers in the U.S., including Ahsan’s son, have been coordinating grassroots support efforts and spreading awareness of the movement for an independent judiciary in Pakistan. Despite their work, critics say, the U.S. government has paid little attention. In his speech, Ahsan described the “roller-coaster ride” of the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan. The movement began last year on March 9, when General Pervez Musharraf — who seized control of Pakistan in 1999 through a military coup and appointed himself president in 2001 — attempted to force the resignation of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. When Chaudhry refused to resign, Musharraf suspended him, igniting outrage and protests from lawyers throughout the country. Musharraf brought charges of judicial misconduct against the former chief justice, who asked Ahsan to represent him in the proceedings. Ahsan devoted himself to Chaudhry’s fight for reinstatement, taking the battle beyond the courtroom and into the streets. Throughout the spring and summer, the two traveled across the country to address fellow lawyers, with thousands of supporters in tow. On one “epic journey,” Ahsan described the mobs of zealous attorneys who followed Chaudhry from Islamabad to Lahore. The crowds surrounding the motorcade were so dense that the 150-mile journey took 26 hours to complete. On July 20, 2007, their work paid off: The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Chaudhry was to be reinstated. “We thought that was the end of the road,” Ahsan said in his speech. “But General Musharraf had other ideas.” On Nov. 3, Musharraf declared a state of emergency and detained 60 judges and their families, reigniting the furor of the lawyers’ movement. Musharraf then arrested thousands of lawyers, including Ahsan. FIGHTING FROM AFAR The movement then spread overseas. Weeks after Musharraf declared martial law, 700 lawyers gathered in front of the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan and rallied for the cause. While support for the movement came from all corners of the legal community, some U.S. attorneys took a greater role in spreading awareness. Ali Ahsan, the son of the movement’s leader and a former associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, has been active in assisting his father’s cause by working with the American and New York Bar Associations, as well as several think-tanks and policy groups in Washington, D.C., to coordinate support efforts. “The legal community has been extremely receptive,” he said, citing protests and help from bar communities. Pakistani-American attorneys have been following Ali Ahsan’s example in getting the U.S. legal community involved with the movement. Along with several fellow lawyers, New York attorney Saleem Syed Rizvi created the Pakistani-American Attorneys for Constitutional Supremacy, a group dedicated to spreading awareness about the crisis through press conferences, news articles and workshops. ADMINISTRATIVE INACTION This February, a change in the Pakistani government led many lawyers in the movement to believe their work was nearly complete. In the general elections for the National Assembly of Pakistan, Musharraf’s party lost, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) formed a coalition government with the Pakistan Muslim League (N). But even now, the ousted judges have not yet been reinstated, and the lawyers’ movement continues. “The new government has proved unable or unwilling — it seems unwilling — despite written declarations and promises, to restore the judges,” said Ali Ahsan. “The government is completely insincere, and the lawyers are ratcheting up their efforts.” Pakistan’s powers-that-be are not the only ones facing criticism from leaders of the movement. The U.S. government’s “policy of deliberate neglect or indifference,” as described by Ali Ahsan, has also come under fire. Ahsan maintains that the current administration does not want to embarrass Musharraf by expressing concern about the treatment of Pakistani judges, and chooses to keep silent in order to allow Pakistan’s president to save face. The U.S. policy, according to Tara Foley, a Pakistan Desk Officer in the U.S. Department of State, is that reinstatement “is a matter that the Pakistani people need to resolve internally.” Movement leaders say that the U.S. government is losing credibility in the eyes of Pakistanis both here and abroad due to its continued failure to act. “They are saying that they do not want to micromanage the Pakistani government policy,” Rizvi said. “On the other hand, they are doing a lot of other things to micromanage — but on this issue they are silent.” One expert not involved with the movement, however, argues that government inaction may be the best course of action. Thomas Houlahan, an associate of the Virginia-based Center for Security and Science who served as an election monitor in the February elections, notes that few people in the U.S. government fully understand the complex legal issues involved in reinstatement. “Our government sticking its nose into something this complex would have disastrous results,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing for people who don’t know anything to stay the hell out of it.” As for the Pakistani government, Houlahan says it needs time to implement wholesale constitutional changes. “The PPP is not able to drop everything and respond to the lawyers,” he said. “I have the utmost confidence in the new government to get this fixed… Ahsan and the PPP want the same thing, the only difference is how to go about it.” Despite receiving criticism for continuing their efforts under the new regime (including a pointed comment from a spectator of Ahsan’s speech), Ahsan insists that their cause is not a matter of who is in power — it is about securing a judiciary independent of whoever is in power. “You can’t construct a strong Parliament on the debris of a crumbled edifice of a judiciary,” Ahsan said. The lawyers’ movement will end only when the judges are reinstated, and Pakistan has a judiciary with “full majesty, dignity, and independence.”

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