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Aitazaz Ahsan: A lion caged

Aitazaz Ahsan, a leading member of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party, was also the leading lawyer for now sacked Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, reports Kamal Siddiqi.

world Updated: Jan 02, 2008 23:07 IST
Kamal Siddiqi
Kamal Siddiqi
Hindustan Times

Bushra Aitazaz, the wife of imprisoned Pakistani legal activist Aitazaz Ahsan, is a brave woman. Her home at Zaman Park in Lahore, where her husband is confined, has been converted into a sub-jail. This week, the government extended Ahsan's imprisonment by a month, making it a total of three months in detention.

Aitazaz Ahsan, a leading member of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party, was also the leading lawyer for now sacked Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry. As head of the Supreme Court Bar Association, he is also the de facto leader of the lawyers movement against the rule of President Pervez Musharraf.

Bushra, herself a former government lecturer, says that she is living in the "jail syndrome." She says that while one thinks it's easy to have to live in their homes, the truth is that restrictions on freedom of movement are frustrating. All phone lines, both land and cell, have been cut to the house. Only Aitzaz Ahsan's office shows some semblance of sanity — staff members come in and put in a few hours or sometimes stay till late. Vistors are discouraged.

For this wife and mother, it is difficult to live this life. At the same time, she says that there are fears that Aitazaz will once again be taken to a proper jail, which would mean more strain on her.

So fed up is she with the way she is living that she says that she has stopped reading about the goings on in her city. "Some weeks back, me and my daughter wanted do something normal so we mustered the strength to go to a friend's house and have coffee."

Both Aitazaz and his wife were close to Benazir Bhutto. They were frequently in touch. But they cannot go to condole. Aitazaz Ahsan was Benazir Bhutto's interior minister in her first tenure as PM. The impression is that the two drifted apart after Ahsan went on to lead the lawyer's movement. But Bushra denies this and says that Benazir had offered a seat to Aitazaz and then to Bushra when he announced the boycott by lawyer.

When it was discovered Bushra could not contest on a technicality, Benazir asked their daughter to fight from Lahore on a PPP ticket. Earlier this year, the Ahsans had meet Bhutto in Dubai. "We spent several hours with them. Benazir was worried that Bilawal would not be accepted by Oxford, like any mother would do. She wanted all her children to study in the UK."

Ahsan's house is surrounded today by policemen. There is no access to Pakistan's most prominent lawyer. "He moves from one room to another. No outsider can meet him," says Bushra.

At a time when most other members of civil society have been let off, the imprisonment of Ahsan comes as a painful reminder that all is not well in Pakistan.