Hundreds of Pakistani lawyers began a two-day march from the southern city of Karachi to the capital on Tuesday to demand the reinstatement of 60 judges removed by the previous military regime of President Pervez Musharraf.
The march represents the first large-scale protest against the new democratically elected government and its first test in handling a highly emotional public issue that fatally wounded Mr, Musharraf’s government.
Organized by Aitzaz Ahsan, a prominent politician and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, the march is a response to the failure of the new government to meet its promises to reinstate the judges.
The marchers include the suspended former chief justice, Iftihkar Muhammad Chaudhry, who is considered a national hero for his resistance to President Musharraf’s autocratic decrees.
Relying on the enormous public support for the suspended chief justice, the “long march,” as it has been dubbed, is now pitted against the new government. Thousands of lawyers, chanting “We are out to save the country: Come join us!,” were joining the march as it moved from Karachi on to the city of Lahore before moving on the capital on Thursday.
The coalition government, led by the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party, had promised to reinstate the judges once in power but it has repeatedly failed to meet the deadlines it has set. The junior coalition party, the Pakistan Muslim League of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, supports the reinstatement of the judges and Mr. Sharif has said he will join the lawyers on their march.
The lawyers are demanding an independent judiciary, and an end to the history of military coups, and some are calling for President Musharraf to be impeached and even tried for treason. A number of prominent retired generals and other senior servicemen of the armed forces will be among those joining the march and have been calling for Mr. Musharraf to be held accountable for his actions of the last eight years.
The government appeared to be preparing for a siege in the capital, as the police sealed off the main avenues using large shipping containers to block the roads and army rangers set up sandbagged positions around the parliament building. Two-thousand police have been deployed in the capital to maintain law and order, officials said.