Friday’s ugly clash between police and lawyers in Lahore was a far cry from the movement for the independence of the judiciary that the city had played its part in only recently.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has been a prime backer of a free and independent judiciary and the lawyers have been the army that the campaign has banked upon. Friday’s clash between the lawyers and the police force under the command of Mr Sharif marked the biggest, if not the first, instance of those in the pro-judiciary camp taking on each other since the movement began in 2007. The face-off and the subsequent arrests came in the wake of the deplorable incident a day earlier in which infuriated lawyers had attacked the chamber of the chief justice of the Lahore High Court. The lawyers had been pressing for the transfer of a district and sessions judge. Many lawyers were booked under the Pakistan Penal Code as well as the anti- terrorism act and some arrests were made. Apparently it was the violent culmination of the lawyers’ rally on Thursday that elicited a sterner response from the police a day later. The inevitable happened. Seeking to block the lawyers’ way, the policemen arrested the participants of the rally and resorted to baton-charge and tear-gassing as the lawyers tried to start the rally, and beat them in the most brutal manner.
Even though some people insist that the attack on the LHC chief justice’s chamber was a conspiracy to defame the pro- judiciary movement, facts betray a grimmer reality. The attack did not come out of the blue. There was a build-up in which a large number of lawyers were involved. If the lawyers’ leaders were to back the strange conspiracy theory, they would be doing a great disservice to not only their profession but to all those who sided with them in their demand for the rule of law. They must now demonstrate that theirs was a principled campaign directed at a set of judges appointed unconstitutionally and that their anger was not aimed at judges per se or judges disagreeing with a lawyer’s argument.