THE LITTLE MAN HAS WON –PAKISTAN -LAHORE
The chaos that gripped Pakistan this week was an important step on the road to democracy
By Farouk Rana, Citizen Special
Russian scholar Yuri Gankovsky believed that there are four nationalities in Pakistan: the Punjabi, Sindhi, Pakhtun, and Baluchi. In a conversation with me in 1989, when I was posted in Moscow, he laughingly dismissed the official point of view that there was one Pakistani nation united by the bonds of Islam and the glue of the national language, Urdu: “You and your four provinces have nothing in common besides a fondness for cricket.”
If Gankovsky was alive today, I would have told him that as it turns out, we also share a commitment to an independent judiciary, and by agreeing on the need for this fundamental value, i.e., the rule of law, we are closer to becoming a united nation despite our disparate ethnicities. That is the true significance of the victory of the lawyers’ movement for the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
It needs to be recalled that Justice Chaudhry was unconstitutionally dismissed by Gen. Musharraf in 2007 because of:
a) his proactive stance on human rights issues and his insistence that the Interior Ministry produce 60-odd “missing persons” — persons who were being kept in secret custody without being charged or tried in a court of law;
b) his insistence on transparency regarding the privatization of national assets and his blocking of the sale of Pakistan Steel Mill; and
c) Gen. Musharraf’s apprehension that the chief justice would question the legality of his election as president by a parliament whose term was expiring in a few weeks time.
Despite repeated promises, the current Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government led by President Asif Ali Zardari procrastinated on the issue of the reinstatement of the chief justice.
The popular perception is that Zardari feared that if reinstated, Iftikhar Chaudhry will declare unconstitutional the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) promulgated by Gen. Musharraf which resulted in the withdrawal of corruption cases against Zardari. Zardari has also not initiated any steps toward surrendering his presidential powers to dismiss the Parliament and send the elected prime minister packing home.
And it was his hand-picked judges in the Supreme Court who disqualified the Sharif Brothers, Nawaz and Shehbaz, from holding any public office, thus precipitating a political crisis in Punjab which led to the dislodging of Shehbaz Sharif from premiership and imposition of Governor’s Rule. The question everyone was asking: How is Zardari any different from Musharraf?
The lawyers had no choice but to announce the “long march” on Islamabad. The march was joined not only by opposition parties, but also by young middle-class professionals belonging to no particular party — the YouTube Generation of Pakistan who have shaken off their apathy and indifference and risen up in defiance to say “No, you cannot.”
The primary motivation for the young and restless to join the march was the fact that if the chief justice of the Supreme Court was not immune from being summarily thrown out of his office, manhandled by the police, put under house arrest and shamelessly maligned in a web of manufactured scandals by the officially inspired image goons, then what protection do the little people have? In fact, what protection does anyone have?
Despite the declaration by the prime minister that the protest march was the democratic right of the opposition and will be allowed to proceed, roads to Islamabad were blocked with thousands of steel containers on the orders of President Zardari and the police force deployed to arrest its leaders and disperse the march. Curbs were also placed on the popular GEO television’s reporting of the unfolding events and its bold criticism of Zardari for reneging on his written agreements with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif regarding the Charter of Democracy.
Zardari’s heavy-handedness led to vocal criticism from within his ruling party. His Information Minister, Sherry Rehman, resigned in protest.
The situation started to spin out of control when many police officers refused to carry out the “illegal” orders of the governor and higher-ups.
Rumours are afloat that field commanders in the army too had indicated their distaste, if not their unwillingness, for getting embroiled in a situation where they would be pitched against their own countrymen.
And so Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani took matters in his own hands and announced on television not only the restoration of the judiciary but also the government’s willingness to sort out the modalities for the implementation of other components of the Charter of Democracy agreed upon and signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in London in 2006. Zardari was nowhere to be seen. The little man has won. And this feeling is priceless.
Of course impediments remain. If Zardari’s hand-picked replacement judges — inducted into the courts over the last few months despite their questionable merits and qualifications — are allowed to remain, then with Musharraf loyalists they will overwhelm and perhaps even neutralize Justice Chaudhry and his reinstated colleagues. This anomaly needs to be corrected.
The restoration of the 1973 Constitution and getting rid of the distortions introduced by Gen. Zia ul-Haq and Gen. Musharraf to increase the power of the presidency also needs to be realized. Until that happens, the bona-fides of President Zardari will remain suspect and will continue to cloud the political horizon.
FAROUK RANA IS FORMER HIGH COMMISSIONER OF PAKISTAN TO CANADA.
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