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Lawyers on the front line?
by Ken Feltman
No country can act wisely simultaneously in every part of the globe at every moment of time.
- Henry A. Kissinger
Lawyers took to the streets. Angered by President Pervez Musharraf's assault on the independence of Pakistan?s judiciary, thousands of black-suited lawyers faced police batons and tear gas to protest Musharraf?s declaration of emergency rule. Police squashed the lawyers' protests, often brutally, and the legal system quickly came to a standstill. Courts emptied as lawyers and clerks hit the protest lines or hid.
Wait a minute: Lawyers on the front lines of a protest against a conservative government? Are they idealistic revolutionaries? Or are they cynical practitioners of realpolitik?
Law students learn early in their legal training that the law is often less about justice and more about stability. So why are all these lawyers shouting in the streets in Pakistan? Is their ox being gored? Consider this:
Musharraf had his reasons for cracking down. He feared that the Supreme Court would declare his recent presidential election victory illegal. He already had enough problems. Popular former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had just returned from eight years in exile and was starting to rally her followers in possible opposition to Musharraf's continued control of both the military and the government. Her return started with bloodshed. During a celebratory procession, two bombs exploded near the truck carrying Bhutto through Karachi, Pakistan?s largest city. Over 145 people died. Bhutto was not injured and her supporters coalesced and threatened violent demonstrations. The tinder box that is Pakistan seemed about to ignite. Then Mussarraf suspended the constitution and called out the troops. From house arrest, the deposed chief justice urged lawyers to revolt and they did. But why? Why would well off lawyers want to revolt against the establishment? They are the establishment, aren't they? Let?s step back and take this a bit slower.
Craven, corrupt and dysfunctional
First, it is a general rule that when there is bloodshed in the streets, the government in control will soon fall unless it is powerful enough to crush the demonstrators completely and create fear in the population. We all remember Tiananmen Square. But the authorities are not always as powerful. Witness Burma: The monks were crushed in bloody ruthlessness and the uprising seemed to vanish until the United Nations became involved. Witness Georgia: The crowds were bloodied but not crushed. Instead, the embattled president called early elections.
Through the years, Pakistan's judges often acted cravenly, sometimes endorsing military takeovers, and the legal system was perceived as corrupt and dysfunctional. Lawyers were considered untrustworthy. But then along came Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, appointed chief justice by Musharraf in March 2005. Chaudhry was a bit of an idealist. He seemed not to worry about stability as he virtually careened through sensitive cases, upsetting the establishment.
Chaudhry started pushing the government to disclose the whereabouts of nearly 500 Pakistanis ? many held for years without charges. Others just vanished. The common thread was that those jailed or missing were accused of involvement in terrorism or ethnic nationalist movements. So far, just over 100 have been released - often mysteriously dropped off on remote highways or suddenly reappearing in police custody, two or three years after disappearing. Threatened, Musharraf accused the Chaudhry court of freeing more than 60 terrorists.
Chaudhry's confrontation with Pakistan's shadowy security apparatus was one reason why Musharraf ousted him in March of this year. He was reinstated by order of the Supreme Court in July. Musharraf had enough.
Benazir Bhutto, educated at Oxford and Harvard, was twice elected prime minister of Pakistan (1988 and 1993). She was removed each time on disputed allegations of corruption. She went into exile in Dubai in 1998 and worked worldwide to cultivate influential supporters, primarily from London.
She is the leading figure in the Pakistan Peoples Party, which her father founded. Possibly the largest political party in the country, the PPP languished without Bhutto's active leadership. Her returned to Pakistan in October was expected to revitalize the party and threaten Musharraf, who placed Bhutto under house arrest, then lifted the arrest warrant after withering international criticism, only to reinstate it five days later.
She is the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who served as president of Pakistan from 1971 to 1973 and as prime minister from 1973 to 1977. He was hanged in 1979 after a controversial trial with disputed testimony and unreliable witnesses. The trial was apparently ordered by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who had ousted Bhutto in a bloodless military coup d'état in 1977. He impose martial law and assumed the presidency of Pakistan in 1978. Zia-ul-Haq died in a mysterious plane crash in 1988, ending his 11-year military dictatorship.
In September Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister who was ousted by Musharraf in 1999, returned to Pakistan from exile. He planned to challenge Musharraf in the next elections. So much for that: Musharraf refused to let Sharif leave the airport. Next, Sharif was served with a warrant charging official corruption. Soon, he was hustled aboard a plane out of the country and into continuing exile. His triumphant return lasted but a few hours.
Bhutto's return was better planned. She had support in the country but even more support from international leaders. With Bhutto in the country, creating tense political kabuki theater, Musharraf was pushed into a corner. He acted. On November 3, Musharraf suspended the constitution and declared a state of emergency. Justice Chaudhry reacted by convening an eight-member court which declared Musharraf?s action illegal and, therefore, null and void. Chaudhry and the other seven Supreme Court justices were arrested.
The judiciary is seldom an opposition force. Judges and lawyers are quintessential members of the establishment. But if you abolish their courts, what have they got?
Another factor comes into play: The large opposition parties have been ineffective and have suffered from weak leadership. The leaders of the major opposition parties style themselves as fighters for democracy against dictatorship, but their records during a decade of volatile civilian rule (1988-1999) were spotty. They were dogged by allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Those allegations sapped their support except among their hardcore followers. The weak political parties were soon co-opted by the dominant military. The opposition remained divided, lacking popular support. Political scientist Rasul Bakhsh Rais says, ?Today political parties are quite disorganized and have single dominant leaders, so they have become little oligarchies of the elite. They do not have roots in society.?
Stable but threatened
The legal community, by contrast, has a strong organizational structure with associations in every district of the country and its own source of income. It is stable and now Musharraf has threatened it.
Musharraf has walked a tightrope and has managed to do just enough to retain American support but not enough to get rid of the Taliban or al Qaeda. Now, with the central government occupied in repelling lawyers at the barricades, Taliban forces have taken over in some areas. Girls? schools have been sacked. Captured regular army troops have been beheaded publicly. The terrorists are in control of larger and larger swatches of Pakistan. It is becoming hard to distinguish those Pakistani areas from Afghanistan under the Taliban.
Musharraf is a very crafty man. He is clever. He is a survivor. He is about as strong an ally as the U.S. can expect from a country such as Pakistan. He may believe that only his continued governance will keep Pakistan from going over to radical Islamists. He does believe that Chaudhry and others do not understand that only extreme measures can stop terrorists.
He may be right. Perhaps democracies have little defense against extremists, whether left or right. Democracies sometimes give their enemies the rights they need to mobilize and work to destroy the very democracies that protect them.
The United States appears to support Musharraf. He represents stability, if not justice. But the U.S. is giving advice and comfort to Bhutto. She is calculating, arbitrary and arrogant. She has done an excellent job gathering support from influential people all over the world. She did less well when she was prime minister. She may eventually represent chaos, but she appears to be the future leader of Pakistan.
Blood in the streets
Musharraf?s perilous situation should cause all of us to reflect. Should we support a military dictatorship or a twice-failed but charismatic politician who represents a party with many followers who want Europe and the U.S. out of Pakistan? One of these two will govern a country that has nuclear weapons, fractious ethnic divisions and unfriendly neighbors.
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It gets hard to tell the players even with a score card. This is a tough world and many of the leaders are incompetent or corrupt or worse. Some of the most capable are autocrats. Does it all come down to whose ox gets gored? Is there any room for justice and idealism and charity? Or is it all realpolitik?
Democracy is not easy, but as the lawyers in the streets of Islamabad remind us, dictatorship is not any easier. For most political leaders, however, realpolitik is easier than idealism. Realpolitik is all about stability - stability in a world full of many powerless people who are willing to take a chance on chaos because they have so little to lose. Add to that the powerful who suddenly realize they might lose everything and we have a potent mix - all over the world.
In the end, are we all practitioners of realpolitik?
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