At 2 pm on Thursday November 15, 2007, we started our long march to Islamabad for the restoration of the judiciary. It was a hallmark event never before experienced. The lawyer’s community had organized reception camps all along the GT road. On the way we were greeted as a liberating force; food, music, animal dances and rose petals. The people of Pakistan had risen against the dictator who had assaulted the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP). Despite the fact that the track record of the judiciary was dismal, overwhelming public support was for the rule of law.

On August 14, 2014 we marched again for the restoration of democracy as the elections in 2013 were grossly rigged. Without an honest ballot, the will of the people cannot prevail. In 1970, we won our right to vote after toppling the first Khaki usurper. Till today that has been the only honest ballot whose fruits in the form of the 1973 constitution we continue to enjoy. As comrades of change we are back on the streets, but where is the free judiciary that we brought back with our sweat and blood?

As a child growing up on the Mall, walking through the corridors of the Lahore High Court was a daily routine. The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) was also located there at the time. There was hardly any security or protocol for judges; only their white wigs looked funny. Judges came on their own cars and there was no concept of green plates. Most judges were upright and honest with outstanding pleading lawyers. Justice A.R Cornelius was one of the most respected judges of his time. He lived all his life at Fallettis Hotel and his worldly belongs were one suit case that is now placed in the law firm of Cornelius Lane and Mufti.

Justice Muhammad Munir was the first to cross the line when he legitimized the military take over after that there was no looking back. The judiciary became an important component of the establishment and the status quo it supported. When Iftikhar Chaudry stood up against his arbitrary removed by Pervez Musharraf, Justice Jawad Khawaja of LHC was the first judge of the superior judiciary to resign in protest. When the two Chaudris decided to drive from Islamabad to Lahore on the GT Road it sparked a movement with active support of the civil society. All the right questions were raised. What would have been the fate of Pakistan if the civil society had come out on the streets in 1958 was the question raised by the deposed Chief Justice. Civil society responded. Several marches were organized. On one of the marches, there was lathi charge outside the residence of the chief but we marched on and remained unfazed.

On Sunday March 15, 2009, the final assault was planned. The meeting point was outside Lahore High Court on the Mall. All roads were blocked by the police. The civil society march started from the canal, our knowledge of the area helped us to use the back streets to reach the area of protests. Black coats were already there. After about an hour, the peaceful protesters were tear gassed, followed by lathi charge. An elderly lady was seated next to me, and as she could not run she was worried for her safety. Her spirits for a democratic Pakistan were high. She had participated in the freedom movement and strongly believed in the ideals of the Quaid. She had to be carried to safety in the open area behind Zaidi Studios on the Mall. In the process, some of our comrades were arrested for defying section 144 and taken to civil lines police station. We followed the van with the lawyers and were finally able to win freedom for them. It was because of mass public support that Nawaz Sharif was able to break the security cordon and reach Kalma Chowk. The march was on. While PML(N) was leading the march from Lahore, PTI and the Jamaat were positioned in Islamabad.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, the Prime Minister decided to compromise in restoring Iftikhar Chaudry as CJP on the retirement of Justice Dogar. Chaudhry Sahib enjoyed the longest and most un-interrupted term ever, but unfortunately he left the entire legal system in shambles.

Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani was the senior most judge and next in line to succeed the CJP. While he was deposed, we developed a good acquaintance. In mid 2013, I met him at a wedding ceremony in Lahore and asked him point blank whether we will have to march again to get rid of Chaudhry Sahib.

The protests on May 11, 2013 against election rigging were spontaneous by first time voters; they felt cheated. Civil society joined them but neither the media nor the judiciary played its role. The khakis looked the other way also, despite blatant violations and intelligence reports. Unfortunately, the Kaptaan was seriously injured and bed ridden. Voters were left unprotected to face the luteras on their own.

Iftikhar Chaudhry was right; if civil society had resisted martial law in 1958, Pakistan would have been the first Asian Tiger. The founding fathers built institutions to sustain the country. Human development followed. Unfortunately, the entire process was derailed. Today there are no national institutions left. The Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers can only take notice and then do nothing about it. And where is the dissent in the judiciary? Like Justice A. R. Cornelius dissented in the Muaulvi Tamizuddin case or Justices Safdar Shah, Dorab Patel, Abdul Haleem did in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s case.

 If the peoples’ mandate has been robbed, who will nab the robbers? The stakes are high if first time voters lose faith in the electoral process, in democracy and the future of Pakistan. Individuals on large screens cannot act as pygmies hiding behind the protection of self interpreted rules.

 The writer is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation