Pakistani-American Groups Urge Obama to Support Reform in Pakistan


Dr Agha Saeed delivers his address

Pakistani-American organizations are urging the Obama administration to express support for Thursday's planned opposition demonstration in Pakistan, calling for an independent judiciary and other reforms. Spokesmen for the groups were on Capitol Hill Wednesday to voice support for the national protest. So says a VOA report by Dan Robinson of 11 March. Datelined Washington, the report adds:

Representatives of a coalition of Pakistani-American organizations appeared in front of a large banner, urging President Barack Obama to support the restoration of an independent judiciary in Pakistan.

Agha Saeed, a California State University political scientist and founder of the Pakistan American National Alliance, an organization of six Pakistani-American groups, called the planned demonstration a defining moment for Pakistan.

He says the Obama administration must put the United States on "the right side of history" by supporting those involved in the protest. "At this time, if America is on the wrong side of history, that will be disastrous. So we are very concerned; we want to make sure our [i.e., the US] government understands the stakes and is not seen opposing independent judiciary," he said.

"The lawyers, the opposition, the civil society is going to be in the streets, although they [i.e., authorities in Pakistan] have started mass arrests. But we wanted to have a token "Long March" and a statement in favor of what restoration of democracy means in Pakistan," said Muhammad Ashraf Toor, the Chairman of the Pakistan American National Alliance.

Toor and others described Pakistan's civilian government as a continuation of former President Pervez Musharraf's administration. In 2007, the General suspended Pakistan's Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The refusal of Pakistan's President Asif Zardari to reinstate Chaudhry is a key issue driving the protest, in advance of which the government has arrested hundreds of lawyers, opposition politicians and activists.

Activist Raja Muhammad Yaqub, Chairman of the Coalition of Pakistani Organizations of Chicago, says Chaudhry must be reinstated. "We struggle for independence of the judiciary in Pakistan and real democracy in Pakistan, and economic development and a modern state that can give human rights and civil rights and economic stability to Pakistan," he said.

Muhammad Salim Akhtar of the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections says Obama administration support for the opposition would send a signal that the United States favors full democracy in Pakistan. "We hope and pray that [the] Obama government understands the situation and they will demand before we [i.e., the US] can deal with this government [i.e., the Pakistan government] who came through the democratic process but their norms are not democratic," he said.

Appearing with the Pakistani-American representatives was US Representative Andre Carson, an Indiana Democrat, who said United States support for an independent Pakistani judiciary would help combat extremism in the country. "History has shown us that one of the most effective ways to defeat terror is by enhancing our basic freedoms. By standing for freedom [in Pakistan], we are taking a stand against extremism. A stronger and more independent Pakistani judiciary means a weaker Taliban," he said.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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