Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Now that President Asif Ali Zardari has agreed to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and offered to challenge a court decision against his rival Nawaz Sharif, is he going to come under pressure to give up his powers to dismiss parliament, another popular demand?
For many Pakistanis, that is the next stage in the rapid emasculation of Zardari’s presidency. Article 58-2B of the constitution, which many blame for much of the country’s political instability, has several times been used to sack elected governments. Zardari had promised to ditch it but has yet to deliver.
“The next thing is to throw (out) 58-2B – it will fix the super power of president then,” was a post on microblogging site Twitter where activists, lawyers and ordinary people, caught up in the drama of the moment, shared information and pictures in real time.
He has already lost his Information Minister. Sherry Rehman, a long-time confidante of his late wife Benazir Bhutto, abruptly quit after the government temporarily blocked transmission of the popular GEO news television channel.
Two years after Iftikhar Chaudhry was first sacked by then President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan government officials said he would be reinstated as Chief Justice after a nationwide protest led by Pakistan’s lawyers.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride. After he was removed by Musharraf, Chaudhry was reinstated only to be sacked again and placed under house arrest along with many other lawyers when the former general declared emergency rule in November 2007. At the time, Pakistani lawyer/politician Aitzaz Ahsan wrote in an editorial in the New York Times that the leaders of the lawyers movement ”will neither be silent nor still”. But he also fretted that the lawyers’ movement would be ignored by the United States and overlooked by the forthcoming election.
Lawyers dressed in black suits scuffling with police, several dragged into police vans. Other marching, their arms linked, shouting slogans and holding placards in a peaceful campaign for justice. If you looked at the TV and still pictures of the “long march” launched by the lawyers in a two-year campaign to uphold the freedom and integrity of the judiciary, they seemed to show a vibrant democracy rather than a country teetering on the brink of failure. It’s a face of Pakistan that has all but got buried in recent months, M Reza Pirbhai, a professor of South Asian history at Louisiana University, wrote in Counterpunch.
“Turban-topped, gun-totting mountain men, stern military dictators and corrupt civilian politicians dominate the global media’s representations of Pakistan, from Washington to New Delhi best fitting the preferred image of the ‘most dangerous place on earth,” he said.
Pakistani authorities banned public protests and detained hundreds of lawyers and opposition workers nationwide to prevent them from launching Thursday’s planned ”long march” towards the capital Islamabad to force President Asif Ali Zardari to reinstate a former Supreme Court judge.
Many went into hiding according to these reports, vowing to press on with the cross-country motor convoy that will set off from cities in Baluchistan and Sind and then Puinjab on Friday before culminating outside the parliament building in the capital.
Maybe this always happens at times of national upheaval. But there is a surprising disconnect between the immediacy of the crisis facing Pakistan as expressed by Pakistani bloggers and the more slow-moving debate taking place in the outside world over the right strategy to adopt towards both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Reading Pakistani blogs since confrontation between the country’s two main political parties exploded and comparing them to international commentaries is a bit like watching men shout that their house is on fire, and then panning over to the fire station where the folks in charge are debating which type of water hose works best.
The recipient of this year’s prize will be announced in Oslo on Oct. 10 from among 197 nominees, with those fighting for human rights among those tipped to win in the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
With hindsight, it seems clear that a mass movement named after Mao’s Long March but also claiming Gandhi’s principles of non-violence risked disappointing its supporters. The failure of the Long March by Pakistan’s lawyers to restore judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf, and its dispersal last Saturday, has prompted much debate about why its leaders gave up without at least staging a sit-in.
Defence analyst Ikram Sehgal called the Long March a logistical success in its ability to garner mass support without violence, but a tactical failure. “The tactical failure of this long-lasting tremendous effort founded on great principles has become a strategic disaster for Musharraf’s opponents,” he writes in The News. “About Pervez Musharraf, ‘with such friends who needs enemies’, one can paraphrase the saying for him: ‘With such enemies why does he need friends?’”