Pakistan might be half a world away from the Sterling Law Buildings, but students and faculty at Yale Law School are carefully examining and strongly condemning President and General Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule in the country.
Musharraf — who announced yesterday that he will step down as Pakistan’s army chief while retaining his civilian leadership status — has begun to show signs that he will soon re-establish the country’s suspended constitution, at least in part because of international pressures for him to do so.
The Yale law community, which issued a strongly worded denunciation of Musharraf’s actions when he first announced the emergency actions in early November, held a panel discussion yesterday to discuss rule of law in Pakistan and the country’s recent constitutional crisis.
Law professor James Silk LAW ’89, who moderated yesterday’s conference, said the gathering was in large part a response to the legal crisis in Pakistan, although discussion also focused on the historical development of Pakistan’s judicial system.
Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh said the events in Pakistan — no matter how far away from New Haven — are deeply important and worthy of close consideration.
“Particularly in an age of globalization, what happens to the rule of law, democracy and the independent judiciary in Pakistan matters to all of us,” Koh said. “We should all stay abreast, and speak in support, of the courageous efforts of Pakistan’s independent lawyers and judges.”
On Nov. 3, Musharraf — who originally came to power in a bloodless military coup d’état in 1999 and has said he will begin his third term as Pakistan’s president Thursday — abruptly suspended Pakistan’s constitution and removed the country’s chief justice from office. Musharraf said at the time that he was acting justly under Pakistan’s constitution, which makes allowances for the president to assume almost absolute power during a war or other exigency.
But Osama Siddique, a professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the panelists at yesterday’s discussion, said Musharraf is unfairly invoking the constitutional provision for emergency powers.
“This is not an emergency,” he said. “This is martial law — it’s a coup.”
Siddique and other panelists at yesterday’s forum said Musharraf’s actions were in large part motivated by tensions between him and Pakistan’s highest court over the general’s eligibility for the country’s presidency and recent disappearances of arrested citizens.
Under the emergency rule, they said, civil liberties have been further curtailed and the government has imprisoned numerous journalists and critics.
Many of Pakistan’s allies, including the United States, have called on Musharraf to end his emergency rule. Musharraf’s announcement yesterday that he will eschew his military leadership has been met with cautious optimism from officials around the world.
The consequences of Musharraf’s actions, no matter how soon the emergency rule ends, may be long-lasting because of “at best incompetent” court appointments, said Ali Ahsan LAW ’02, a panelist at the conference who serves as a speech writer to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“What we need is the judiciary to be restored, because everything else — free elections and a system of checks and balances — will flow from it,” Ahsan said.
Nighat Saeed Kahn, an activist and author in Pakistan who also spoke yesterday, noted that Musharraf’s latest coup is being met with less prominent public resistance than Pakistanis have offered in the past.
Alark Saxena FES ’07 said it was this long-term perspective that was most interesting in the conference.
“I didn’t know much of what had happened in terms of the coups in the past,” he said. “It’s very interesting that Musharraf termed it an emergency, when it’s actually a martial law. That’s a very important historical point.”
Syed Salah Ahmed ’11, a native of Karachi, said while much of the legal community in his home country — whether judges, lawyers or other activists — is actively opposing the emergency rule, other citizens are not concerned about Musharraf’s rule.
“The common people don’t really care,” Ahmed said. “Poverty is so common that most people are worried about their food and basic necessities of life, so they can’t care about politics.”
But many members of the global legal community are deeply concerned with the events in Pakistan, in large part because of their historical implications. A statement initially issued by Koh on Nov. 7 denounced Musharraf’s actions “in the strongest terms.”
“General Musharraf is trampling upon the very system of law that alone can justify a ruler’s power over his people,” the statement said.
Several hundred lawyers, law students, professors and law-school administrators from around the world have signed the statement.