Latif Lala: Stalwart Of the Lawyers' Movement And Constitutionalism

Latif Lala: Stalwart Of the Lawyers' Movement And Constitutionalism
The Independent Lawyers Forum (also known as the Aama Jahangir Group) recently won the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) elections with a big margin. The newly elected President Abdul Latif Afridi is known as Latif Lala in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). He was born in 1943 in Tirah valley, the last western town of the border district Khyber.

Since the era of his student life, he has been standing on the right side of history and always opposes dictators and unconstitutional tendencies, while upholding democracy. His life is full of ups and downs but Lala never gave up - whether he was dealing with the recent onslaught by fundamentalist militants or the earlier barbaric decade-long rule of General Zia-ul-Haq.

Latif Lala considers lawyers to be the backbone of democracy and he is of the opinion that these “black-coats” should be in the front row of all constitutional and human rights movements.

“For decades, in most cases lawyers have held high the torch of constitutionalism and now it’s our responsibility to work for civilian supremacy,” Lala says. “In this tenure, along with democratic forces, we will stand without any fear and pressure,” he pledges.

He has remained seven-time president of the Peshawar High Court Bar Association and also Vice Chairman of Pakistan Bar Council. Winning the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) elections convincingly and defeating the Hamid Khan Group candidate Sattar Khan, the veteran Lala was able to draw upon the support of the Pakistan Democratic Movement. The political parties that are part of the PDM threw their weight beyond Lala and he secured 1,236 votes as opposed to the runner up, who bagged 959.

In the 1960s, Latif Lala, as a first-year student of Economics at the University of Peshawar, was a staunch supporter of Fatima Jinnah in her campaign against the regime of Ayub Khan. For that purpose, Latif Lala organized rallies in favor of Ms. Jinnah. He was arrested and the authorities were pressured to force him out of college for two years. But at the time his Economics Department Chairman stood by Latif against the Vice Chancellor and it was decided that he would be penalized for only 2 months. After completion of his studies in Economics he went on to get admission into the Law department. Since 1969 he is a practicing lawyer. Known to be among the most courageous lawyers in Peshawar, he is famous for never having refused to take up a human-rights-related case.

Politically he is in the Awami National Party (ANP) and was a very close ally to Khan Abdul Wali Khan. When revolutionary poet Ajmal Khattak formed own political party, many including Lala had joined. But later rejoined his party and today he serves ANP with his suggestions every now and then.

For the last few years Tariq Afghan Advocate was Latif Lala’s associate and during his election campaigns he had remained with him everywhere. Afghan considers Latif Lala an “academy” - with a great knowledge of Pakistani and Afghan history alike.

Latif Lala earns only to fulfill his domestic and office expenses although he is among the most senior lawyers. The reason for his relatively meagre earnings is that he provides free services to labourers, farmers and, more recently, activists of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). In his commitment to the public good, he is a genuine Khudai Khidmatgar.

Lala is known for his stance against religious fundamentalism. During the era of armed militancy, the miscreants demolished his home due to his strong stance against their barbarism. Even in the 1980s he was opposed to the conflict in Afghanistan and he never called it a “holy war.” He has a great understanding of the region and was aware about Afghan war. Latif Lala has been keeping his professional and ideological political views alive without any fear. He was among the very first voices in the campaign against the British-introduced draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).

Almost in every martial law, Lala has spent time in prison. But during the rule of General Zia in particular, he was sent to jail five times. In 1979 he was in jail for a year and was again arrested in 1981. In the 1980s he was very active in the Movement for the Restoration for Democracy (MRD) and in 1983 he was sent to D. I. Khan prison.

“At the time, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan National Party (PNP) leaders' differences were at their peak and they were also in D. I. Khan jail” he recalls. “I sat with both groups and convinced them that we must fight for democracy. And when the Jail Superintendent got the news, the next day I was in Haripur.” Lala grins and discusses the hard times during the military regimes that he has lived through.

During the Lawyers' Movement against General Musharraf's regime, he was leading a protest against in front of the provincial assembly when a police vehicle ran over him. It broke Lala's foot and now he cannot walk without the support of a stick. Lala's friends and followers say that this stick in the hands of a seasoned lawyer is a symbol of democracy.

Sangeen Khan Advocate has worked with Latif Lala and he terms him his mentor and teacher. He says Latif Lala is a man of words and principles. Lala has great charisma and no one can undermine his personality or silence his thundering voice. “We found him always charged and energetic and always logical when he speaks” Khan says. “No doubt the lawyers have been doing their very best whenever the constitution is in danger,” he adds. Sangeen Khan feels that the country's political scenario is changing very rapidly. He predicts: “I am sure the ground is shifting in accordance with the teachings of Lala. This tenure will be remarkable and will be remembered in the history of the lawyers’ movement.”

Abdur Rauf Yousafzai is a Peshawar-based journalist. He tweets at @theraufkhan