Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Realising it may be on shaky legal ground, the government hurriedly withdrew a detention order for Aitzaz Ahsan, a legal luminary and one of the leaders of the 2007 lawyers’ agitation, freeing him after three months of imprisonment.

Within hours of his release, Mr. Ahsan pledged that the legal community would continue to fight for the release and reinstatement of the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and asked President Pervez Musharraf to step down.

Mr. Ahsan was jailed on November 3 as President Pervez Musharraf brought Pakistan under emergency rule. He was later placed under house arrest in Lahore.

Charged under a law called Maintenance of Public Order, he completed 90 days of imprisonment, the maximum permissible under its provisions, on Thursday.

The government first extended Mr. Ahsan’s detention by 30 days on Thursday evening but withdrew the order late at night.

Before the order extending the detention was served on him, the lawyer, who is also the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, declared himself a free man and argued threadbare on television channels that the government had no legal leg to stand on if it decided to keep him under arrest.

Punjab Interior Secretary Khusro Parvez said on Thursday great thought had been given to the extension as Mr. Ahsan was an important person, and it was “not easy to keep a person like him in detention.” He said the decision was taken to prevent Mr. Ahsan from instigating unrest.

But the government appears to have had a quick change of mind. Within hours of his release, Mr. Ahsan was out and about in Lahore. He met Shahbaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Addressing city lawyers, he demanded General (retd.) Musharraf step down as his presence was encouraging suicide attacks and terror across the country.

He also asked General Musharraf to refrain from making allegations of corruption against the deposed Chief Justice.

“Our struggle for the restoration of democracy and an independent judiciary will continue. I appeal to all bar associations to actively take part in the struggle to end dictatorship.”

Mr. Ahsan, a leading member of the Pakistan People’s Party who withdrew from the election in solidarity with the lawyers’ struggle for a free judiciary, said the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), an ally of General Musharraf, would be defeated in the February 18 general elections. If it won the elections, that would be proof that the election was rigged.