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Fighting for the rule of law: civil resistance and the lawyers' movement in Pakistan
journal contributionposted on 2010-06-01, 00:00 authored by Zahid AhmedZahid Ahmed
Pakistan, sometimes referred to as 'the most dangerous place on earth', is not typically thought of as a place where popular nonviolent resistance could take root, much less succeed. Citizen apathy, poor governance, and fear of regime repression and terrorist violence are barriers to effective civic activism inside Pakistan. Yet, over the past two years, Pakistan's authoritarian ruler was ousted and its independent judiciary restored following a massive grassroots campaign led by lawyers. The 'men in black', whose insistence on the rule of law and embrace of nonviolent struggle captured the hearts and minds of millions of Pakistanis, helped transform the country's political landscape in unexpected ways. The successes tallied by this nonviolent movement, this article will argue, can be attributed to the large-scale non-cooperation and civil disobedience that pressured two successive Pakistani regimes - one authoritarian and one democratic - to yield to its demands. Unity and mass participation, nonviolent discipline, and the creative use of nonviolent tactics were three key ingredients of success. While instability and Islamist extremism continue to plague Pakistan, the lawyers' movement highlights the steadily growing strength of Pakistani civil society have a potential to influence democratic change in the country.