Can one woman carry a crusade for democracy? Can one woman take on the military and the powerful establishment to demand an end to army rule? Yes if she happens to be a former judge of the Lahore High Court. Yes if her name ends with Iqbal. And yes if she has the support of the civil society and judiciary.
Reflexively, she is a doer; not an armchair begum or a drawing room whiner. Her greatest assert is her husband Javid Iqbal, the name that launched a million Javids after Allama Iqbal named his only son Javid. Even at the age of 84, the retired chief justice of Lahore High Court (LHC) stood with his brother judges all night long to welcome Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry at Lahore.
Nasira Iqbal, 20 years younger than her husband, worked the phones and coaxed everyone she knew from her profession to stand up and be counted. The end result: Seventeen serving and 15 retired judges of the LHC, three former judges of the Supreme Court and some serving and retired judges of subordinate courts were among thousands of lawyers and activists who greeted Justice Chaudhry in the parking compound of the high court on May 6.
When Justice Javid Iqbal took oath as the acting CJ on that muffed March 9th evening, Nasira Iqbal shot off an email to the Pakistani-American community in Washington that the acting CJ was not Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s son. “You will be pleased to learn that Dr Javid Iqbal is not the person who agreed to be sworn in as acting chief justice when the chief justice of Pakistan was rendered ‘incapable of acting’ in an unceremonious manner by General Pervez Musharraf at the bidding of his American masters. As you are aware, Javid Iqbal is a common name shared by several thugs, dacoits, miscreants and other anti social elements, including the man who murdered one hundred children and the present acting chief justice.”
The lady is now doing everything she can to stop General Musharraf from becoming our next president. “The fate of Pakistan is in the hands of 800 parliamentarians who will cast their votes for and against Musharraf,” says Justice Nasira. “If a nation of 160 million decide that they don’t want Musharraf, all they have to do is form pressure groups to convince their representatives in the provincial and national assemblies, including the Senate, to vote for Musharraf’s opponent.” Remember, the vote is through a secret ballot.
Her plan of action: get the email addresses of the 800 from the national assembly secretariat and bombard them with messages not to vote for Musharraf but to vote for his rival, who Justice Nasira hopes, will be fielded by the combined opposition parties (COP). She’s quite capable of launching a hunt for a presidential candidate should the COP fail to find one. My two cent advice to the opposition, still in terrible disarray and shamefully scatterbrained, is to hire gratis the lady who delivers what she sets out to achieve.
“The whole nation is being held hostage to Musharraf’s whims. On May 12th he fiddled and his party danced the bhangra while Karachi burnt and got butchered,” says the Harvard-trained lawyer. Putting out her legal opinion against Musharraf’s ineligibility for re-election from the same assemblies, Justice Nasira argues that he cannot hold two offices after his current term. If he resigns as COAS, he cannot seek election for two years. “He just cannot be the president. Period!” Equally controversial is his uniform. “As COAS he is bound by his oath to defend the Constitution which he has already violated; His duty is also to defend borders which he has already neglected by launching the Kargil misadventure and after 9/11 he has surrendered state sovereignty to US which calls all the shots including the preparation and scrutiny of electoral rolls by paying one billion rupees for (mis-) preparing them.”
That’s a very serious charge. Be honest, do we really think Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Qazi Farooq will care to rebut it? His factotum, Secretary Dilshad has ignored the request for a meeting by the ‘Citizens Group on Electoral Process’ (CGEP) of which Justice Nasira is an active member. Recently the group, headed by Justice (r) Wajih-ud-din Ahmad, with retired bureaucrats and generals, media heads and intellectuals as its members, screamed blue murder demanding an “inquest” in the corruption and mismanagement of the one- billion-rupee election project. The CGEP under the auspices of PILDAT (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency) had sensed the Election Commission’s knavery as early as January of this year. Nasira Iqbal’s bell ringing against deceit and ego of the general and his party can turn into a thunderclap if the Election Commission continues its corruptibility.
We the public have a right to know why 30.6 million voters stand disenfranchised by Musharraf’s handpicked Chief Election Commissioner!
Benazir Bhutto has already gone to court over the missing voters lists through her counsel Senator Khosa.
Will the judges now stand up to Musharraf? “They will have to take an independent stand and judgments in all matters before them. They mustn’t act as lambs being led to the slaughter by the lion Chief Executive,” says Justice Nasira. The word ‘lamb’ got coinage by Aitzaz Ahsan this week in court while arguing the CJ’s case. Justice Ramday, heading the 13-member Supreme Court bench on CJ reference asked meaningfully: “Are we really a lamb?” to which Advocate Ahsan replied, “This is time to establish that judges are not lambs.”
The Washington Post gave an ‘F’ to our military two days ago. It quoted medical doctor Nusrat Riaz, practicing in the backwaters of rural Pakistan, as saying he was being monitored by a retired army officer: “This is part of the militarization of the entire country. It is very insulting, and it is happening because of the man sitting at the top,” said Riaz. Continuing, the Post editorialized “Active-duty or retired officers now occupy most key government jobs, including posts in education, agriculture and medicine that have little to do with defense. The military also dominates the corporate world; it reportedly runs a $20 billion portfolio of businesses from banks to real estate developers to bakeries. And everywhere lurks the hand of the feared military-led intelligence services.”
Straddling ground realities, the Post said that the military was drawing “open contempt from civilians.” But “they (generals) are not expected to go easily, and the wealth and influence they have attained during the Musharraf era helps explain why.”
Sixteen generals versus 160 million people is the crux of Justice Nasira Iqbal’s argument. “The example of CJ standing up to the COAS shows how one person sparked a spontaneous wave/movement for resistance to arbitrariness and authoritarianism by a usurper and his chamchas. We all are willing and ready to commit ourselves to restoring democracy and the rule of law. We have to remember that the buck stops with each one of us – one swallow does a summer make!”
When people refuse to obey the dictator, then democracy comes alive, says Howard Zinn, author of the bestseller A People’s History of the United States.