The headline reads (or at least it used to read): “Lawyers Battle Police In Pakistan.” I’ve had to “do battle” with police officers before. When you have to cross-examine someone to get certain facts out to the jury, that’s what you do, even if it means impeaching a police officer’s credibility. (Especially if it means impeaching a police officer’s credibility, for some kinds of cases.) In a war of words, the lawyer is almost always going to be better-armed than the police.
But I’ve never had to literally battle police in order to be a lawyer. In a battle of guns, tear gas, and nightsticks, the police are going to win every time. I’m particularly disturbed by the note in the story that the police were paid “cash bonuses” for beating up and then rounding up the protesting lawyers, who have been called “terrorists” for supporting the existence of an independent judiciary.
This, President Musharraf, is not the way to protect democracy. Nor is it a way to make yourself (or your protégé, should you ever select one) look better than Benazir Bhutto, who has managed to do what seems to be an excellent job of positioning herself as the savior of moderate, secular democracy in the critically dangerous nation of Pakistan.
It occurs to me that it’s likely that these lawyers are out there, getting arrested and beaten up and maybe even killed, because they want to have a democratic government that respects the rule of law. That makes them heroes in my book. That’s what our Founding Fathers fought the British for six years to get. I wonder if Americans today are made of the same kind of stuff that motivates these Pakistani lawyers, and that motivated our ancestors, to step up to the plate and fight for this stuff.
Now, it also occurs to me that some elements of Pakistan’s society wants to see the government in Pakistan destabilized so that a theocracy can take its place. Certainly that’s a problem, because if the Musharraf government falls, what replaces it? Who gets to control those nuclear weapons aimed at the world’s most populous democracy? Who gets to decide whether American troops are welcome to operate or support operations to find the real bad guys hanging out somewhere with a line of sight to the Khyber Pass?
It’s hard to imagine, though, religious extremists backing up lawyers and courts, and so far I’ve not heard of any overtly religious rhetoric – or even anti-American propaganda – associated with the protests against the deposition of the Pakistani courts. So while the situation in Karachi and Islamabad looks very dangerous and violent, that’s not the same thing as a breeding ground for a new Islamic revolution to take place.
Pervez Musharraf is a military man, and he seems to have a secular bent towards the government and society in general. He seems to enjoy power and does not understand why holding two different kinds of leadership positions within both the military and political structures of his country is a problem. He has no time for the kinds of people who threaten America (in this case, Al-Qaeda and militant Muslim extremists) and therefore is a useful ally in our efforts to wipe out our enemies. In all of this, he sounds a little bit like someone else in the Muslim world that the U.S. held its nose and quietly supported in the past; ultimately, that didn’t work out too well for anyone involved.
Let’s hope that the Pakistanis find a way to make the flower of democracy bloom without reverting to either religious primitivism or military dictatorship, either of which could easily hamstring an otherwise critical player on the world stage. If I’m right about the kind of people these lawyers protesting in the streets really are, there is a hard core of people who are really dedicated to the ideas of liberty which are at the core of our own set of national ideals. After all, as a politician who I used to admire once said, “Freedom is contagious”.