Aitzaz Ahsan of PPP files papers

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READYING FOR POLL: The former Pakistan Premier, Benazir Bhutto, submitting her nomination papers in Karachi on Sunday.
READYING FOR POLL: The former Pakistan Premier, Benazir Bhutto, submitting her nomination papers in Karachi on Sunday.

Nirupama Subramanian

LAHORE: The Pakistan government shifted Aitzaz Ahsan from Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail to this city early on Sunday to enable him to file his nomination papers for the January 8 elections. He is now under arrest at his home here.

The barrister was imprisoned hours after the imposition of Emergency on November 3 for his role in the lawyers’ movement and the legal battle for the reinstatement of the former Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhary.

After keeping him three weeks in solitary confinement, the government had to shift the lawyer here on the orders of the Election Commission.

Mr. Ahsan is with the Pakistan People’s Party and was a member of the last Parliament. Party leader Benazir Bhutto has told PPP candidates to go ahead and file nominations while she decides whether or not to boycott the elections.

As nominations have to be handed in person, Mr. Ahsan made a representation to the Election Commission for his release, which then directed the government to release all political prisoners to enable their participation in the election process.

Spiritedly defiant

But Mr. Ahsan is not being released yet. Dozens of policemen and several police vans stood around his Zaman Park home, which the authorities have declared a sub-jail.

This correspondent managed to walk in to the house in the morning, bumping into Mr. Ahsan just as he was leaving to file his nominations.

He looked thinner, but except for a moustache — as the events of the next hour showed, he is old self — spiritedly defiant against the Musharraf regime.

“I can’t speak to you here, this is a sub-jail. Come to the court. I am going there to file my nomination,” he said.

Three vehicles with armed policemen escorted the Cambridge-educated barrister as he drove with friends in an SUV to the civil courts where an additional magistrate was accepting nominations.

A small group of lawyers awaited his arrival, clutching garlands and bags of rose petals.

“Our hearts and souls are with Aitzaz Ahsan. He is a son of the soil. He is working for democratic rights. He was trying really to put the people of Pakistan in the ray of nations,” said Rafaqat Ali, president of the Lahore Cantonment Bar Association.

A mini-stampede broke out the moment Mr. Ahsan got off his vehicle, as the lawyers, shouting slogans in his praise struggled with the policemen to get close to him. They showered him with the rose petals and garlanded him. The police tried to keep the lawyers and the handful of supporters who accompanied him from entering the court house, but screaming and shouting, they fought their way in.

“They have brought me here, as you can see, on a Sunday so that I cannot intermingle with my community of lawyers. This would have been crowded with lawyers on a weekday,” he said.

At the entrance to the courtrooms, there was another struggle as police once more tried to keep the group out. Mr. Ahsan announced he would not file his nominations and started to walk out of the courthouse.

A senior policeman came up to him and requested to him not to leave. Mr. Ahsan relented, and a few of his supporters were allowed in with him.

The process took about 15 minutes in a convivial atmosphere. The additional magistrate and Mr. Ahsan exchanged pleasantries as a clerk stamped some papers.



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