KARACHI, PAKISTAN—The state of emergency declared by Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has plunged the country into a judicial crisis as the lawyers fraternity—which has been leading street protests for the past five days—is pledging to boycott courts being led by Musharraf's replacement judges.
The rise of the judiciary has been directed by the ousted Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who is increasingly emerging as a potential rival to Musharraf. "We consider Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry as the 'constitutional' head of the judiciary and refuse to appear before the judges who have taken fresh oaths under the emergency order," says Ahsan Bhon, the president of the Lahore Bar Council.
While Musharraf has claimed that his suspension of the Constitution and sacking of the Supreme Court chief justice were aimed at containing the growing militancy in the country's northern and southeastern regions, many Pakistanis believe he was trying to tame the country's judiciary, which has been growing more independent and assertive in recent months.
When he declared emergency rule, Musharraf removed not only Chaudhry but also 60 percent of the Supreme and high court judges who refused to work under new emergency orders. Musharraf also quietly clipped the power of judges to grant bail to the thousands of defiant lawyers, activists, and other protesters who were arrested after the imposition of the emergency and are now in jail.
Describing Musharraf's move as a flagrant attack on Pakistan's constitution, rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary, Chaudhry urged the masses to join the protests.
"The time of sacrifice has come," he said in a message to the Islamabad Bar Association. "We all must rise up for the supremacy of the constitution."
Even as Pakistani security forces used tear gas and batons against supporters of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, many lawyers vowed to continue their protests.
"No matter that all our leaders are behind bars," says Ghulam Qadir Jatoi, a senior lawyer. "Their followers are still there to carry on their mission. We will not be cowed down by arrests and torture."
— Aamir Latif with Kevin Whitelaw in Washington