Afaq’s Struggles for Justice

Posted on November 5, 2009
Filed Under >Hassan Rehman, Law & Justice, Society
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Hassan Rehman

He seems like any other ordinary mortal. Talk to him and you will know that he has not been fortunate enough to attend some prestigious school or college. His clothing reveals that he belongs to a middle class family. His ‘khatara’ byke confirms his middle class back ground. If he is not wearing black coat and pant, no one will believe that he is a lawyer.

So what made TIME magazine print his photograph back in November 2007?

His courage and his defiance.

Back on 5th November, 2007, when the Lahore High Court was stormed by the police, where hundreds of lawyers and dozens of students and faculty members from LUMS & FAST were peacefully protesting against the unconstitutional steps by then-President Pervez Musharraf, Afaq did something no sane person could have imagined.

When the Police started firing tear gas shells on the protestors (extensive baton charging not being an effective lesson), he started throwing those shells back at the police. A photographer captured the image which was to appear at the title of TIME. Seeing the image, Ralph Nader pointed out that US lawyers should learn a lesson in resistance from Pakistani lawyers.

Afaq, like hundreds of his colleagues at Lahore and thousands at other cities of the country, was detained that day and sent to a prison outside Lahore. He was released after a few days but he didn’t learn the lesson the establishment wanted him to learn.

He took part in all lawyers’ protests afterwards and was one of the ‘vigil keepers’ who were arrested from the official residence of Justice Shahid Siddiqi on 6th December. Afaq was at Aiwan-e-Adal on 10th January, 2008, when the GPO was rocked with a suicide attack. Afaq, like thousands of his colleagues from around Pakistan, participated in the boycott of the PCO judges, which meant loss of income.

Let me come to the point lest it seems that I am writing an obituary.

Afaq is an ordinary person, a mediocre being. What differentiates him from the rest of us is his belief in struggle. A struggle which is not necessarily waged in the air conditioned court rooms, or in the ivory towers of academia (or, for that matter, at the online discussion boards and email lists). He, and his fellows (students, doctors, faculty members, civil society activists) believe that protesting on roads is a question of philosophy – of asserting one’s being – and not necessarily of strategy.

The most important dividend of Afaq’s struggle (ignoring the tear gas shells and detention at prisons) is the satisfaction – that he tried his best when something blatantly wrong was being done to his country. And he, and thousands of brave and determined lawyers of Pakistan, has done us a favor that can never be forgotten.

I disagree with the utilitarian angle of looking at things (lawyers helped bring CJ back and the CJ is helping the poor by reducing the price of sugar and the cases are being disposed of quickly these days!!) or, to be precise, attribute more importance to the less-utilitarian (more philosophical??) angle of looking at things. Lawyers helped this nation in witnessing a moment which I label as ‘indigenous audacity of hope’. We, the ‘Sofa Bolsheviks’ and others, owe a lot to them for this favor.

Hope that we had lost; hope that we were desperately seeking. A lesson to be learned from the struggle that spanned two years: issues don’t survive on their intrinsic academic or ethical importance alone, their survival, and the possibility of some solution down the road, is dependent on the extent of the determination of their takers.

15 Comments on “Afaq’s Struggles for Justice”

  1. Haroon says:
    November 5th, 2009 1:20 am

    It is important to remember the Justice movement because it was a high water mark for Pakistan.

  2. November 5th, 2009 1:40 am

    Some comments from the ATP Facebook Page:

    - “Most of the Lawyers have forgotten it! CJ is back but not the promised change”
    - “nice writeup”
    - “I wonder why the ‘Lawyers’ are not up in arms agianst the Zardari regime who is breaking every single law of this country right now. Pathetic.”
    - “Lawyers are like bee’s. Only when the queen bee (CJ) is threatened, they sting!”
    - “Lawyers have been successfully used for the benefit of few ruling now a days … it was all crap moment …”
    - “I am a big fan of Aitzaz Ahsan’s Leadership…..:) THIS movement teachs us the lesson of UNITY….. PAKISTAN ZINDABAD!!!”

  3. ahmed2 says:
    November 5th, 2009 2:17 am

    Thanks for your eloquent, moving and thought-provoking post. So long as there are people like you to remind us of our struggles, and people like Afaq prepared to struggle, our nation will win out , no matter however long it takes.
    “Challay challo kay woh manzil abhee nahin aayee”

  4. ASAD says:
    November 5th, 2009 3:09 am

    I think that the lawyers movement was a great event in Pakistans history and I am fully supportive of it.

    But this picture and this person is NOT representative of the movement. The movement was largely peaceful and non-violent. And this person is indulging in violence. He is therefore defying one of the cornerstones of the movement. The real heroes of the movement were not those few who reverted to violence themselves, but the many many who remained peaceful. THEY ARE THE REAL HEROES.

  5. absen says:
    November 5th, 2009 3:17 am
  6. Aamir Ali says:
    November 5th, 2009 3:57 am

    What was so blantantly wrong when Musharraf removed PCO judges like Iftikhar Chaudhry and his gang ? I don’t buy the logic of these lawyer-movement fellows that PCO 1 was Ok for so and so reason but PCO 2 or 3 is bad for so and so reason. What nonsense.

    Looking back, the lawyer movement destabilized Pakistan and re-instated hypocrite judges who have done nothing so far to improve judiciary or deliver justice to the people. They have however delivered for Nawaz Sharif.

  7. Hira Mir says:
    November 5th, 2009 4:23 am

    “Back on 5th November, 2007” It’s year 2009 and we are still bragging on incident that happened two years ago. Will the media stop portraying from the past and stressful stuff so that Pakistan can get out of this deep hole? I blame the media partial for the situation that Pakistan is in today. If media wants I believe they can change everything in a very short period of time only if they start being loyal to out nation for ONCE!

  8. MQ says:
    November 5th, 2009 5:53 am


    It’s good to see you back after ages, it seems.

    Faiz will never get dated in Pakistan. Aitaz Ahsan was here in the US reciting his now famous poem in private gatherings: ‘Fauj lage gi sab ko achi, jab sarhad kay paas rahai gi’. I wish someone had also recited Faiz:

    Yeh woh sahar tau nahin, jis ki aarzoo lay kar
    Chalay thay yaar, keh mil jaye gi kahin na kaheeN
    KaheeN tau jaa kay rukay ga safeena-i- gham-dil

    And, again, in Faiz’s words:

    Nadyeea bhi wohi hai, naau wohi
    Ab tum hi kaho kiya karna hai
    Aur kaisay paar utarna hai?

  9. Nimra says:
    November 5th, 2009 7:03 am

    Very refreshing article sir!

    I believe we should always consider the fine line between violence and ‘Courage’!!! And being courageous enough – like the one in this picture – needs what only few of us have: Courage!!! Afaq didn’t fire that tear gas shell! He was supposed to be the victim or the target of the shell!! And at least I don’t expect a sweet smile or a hello from him in response to the tear gas or laathi-charge!!!

    Commenting (as you and I both are!) by hitting some keys on the keyboard or discussing the philosophy of peace and violence or calmness and wildness AND struggling on the roads ‘actually’ by picking the tear gas shells in our hands or visiting jails are 2 very different things if we calculate the courage behind them! We don’t even know how many guts are needed to pick the tear gas shells in our own hands and throwing them back to the place from where they were fired!!!

    The person, the picture isn’t violent – It’s valiant!!!

    Moreover, the piece of writing is not to nominate ‘real’ heroes and ‘fack’ heroes of that movement! It’s just to remember that struggle and the picture truly represents that!!!

    I’m stunned to read this:
    “It’s year 2009 and we are still bragging on incident that happened two years ago.”

    Do you know that we, as nation, have very few ‘incidents’ for which we can feel proud or brag about? The writing is about that struggle, that journey!!! It is to refresh one of those ‘few’ incidents of our nation’s history (other than cricket world cup championships or 20-20 final matches!!) for which we are at least not ashamed!!

    Quote: “Will the media stop portraying from the past and stressful stuff” What’s ‘stressful’ here?? You don’t need to get stressed about all this honey. And I guess that the incidents that break the sleeps of sleeping nations are always bit stressful!! And luckily it resulted in something positive! All this isn’t – at all – ‘stressful’! It’s stimulating! It’s motivating! And it’s nothing but inspiring!!!

  10. AdeelJ says:
    November 5th, 2009 10:57 am

    Well said.

    Indeed this was one of the few developments in our history that made me feel proud as a Pakistani.

  11. Aamir Al says:
    November 5th, 2009 1:13 pm

    What exactly positive resulted from the lawyer movement of 2007 ? That Zardari the crook is President, or that Nawaz Sharif, another crook is a leader, or that hypocrite PCO judges like Iftikhar Chaudhry are sitting on the bench ? I don’t see any real democracy, or justice being delivered to Pakistani nation today because of this lawyer movement and judges.

    The emotional Pakistani nation were taken for a ride by political parties who showed them the usual “grass is greener on other side”, with the result that political parties are enjoying the fruits while legal systems remains as corrupt, slow and dysfunctional as before.

  12. Shirjeel says:
    November 5th, 2009 3:41 pm

    While many are commenting and commending the valour of Afaq for picking the live shell and throwing back to its source, I would also like to praise the photographer for his expert and timely capturing of this ‘telling’ moment in our history.

    Yes, we cannot ignore, downplay or minimize the importance of the “lawyers” protest which on the final day transformed into a potent people’s movement sending shockwaves all the way to Islamabad, to the corridors of power and then ultimately to the Presidency. It was the sheer size of the crowd on that day which forced the people at helm to agree to the restoration of judiciary.

    I can understand the reasoning behind the comments of Asad about our protests being violent. And I would agree with Nirma that there is a fine line between courage and violence. I wish that our people when protesting on streets can remember this distinction and do not resort to ‘violence’ and destruction of public and private property.

    Yes, restoration of judiciary is a great thing which is happen in our country. However, still one of the biggest ailment afflicting our country is the absence of rule of law. Like elsewhere, corruption is rampant in our courts and legal system thus denying and delaying justice to the common man. The real test of the restored judiciary would be how it can purge this corruption, dispense justice without any fear or favour, and thus bring smile to the millions of hapless and beleagured Pakistanis.

  13. Natasha says:
    November 6th, 2009 8:46 am


  14. munib says:
    November 10th, 2009 1:37 am

    ” ‘indigenous audacity of hope ” yeah !! that pretty much summarize it

  15. Khawar says:
    January 13th, 2010 9:59 am

    Not bad!

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