June 14, 2008

Marching to somewhere? (EDITORIAL)

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 9:22 pm
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JUNE 14, 2008


Saturday, June 14, 2008
The ‘long march’, led by lawyers, has made its point. Despite the passage of over a year since the stand-off between President Pervez Musharraf and deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, people have not forgotten or abandoned the cause. Many seem to realize that despite the not insignificant propaganda to the contrary, independent justice and constitutional fair play does matter to citizens.

While it was evident from the somewhat straggling gathering at Lahore Thursday as the ‘march’ prepared to depart for Islamabad in its cars, buses and min-vans, that some of the initial enthusiasm and support for the movement had drifted away, it is still credible that the campaign has been sustained. Aitzaz Ahsan, the leader of the movement, made it a point to stress repeatedly that there was no faltering in determination. But much of the initial hope and spirit of the effort has dissipated. The heat of a Punjab mid-summer is only a partial reason. The feeling that the PPP has betrayed the movement, by putting forward its convoluted and ultimately retrogressive constitutional package and simultaneously backing away from its March 2008 Bhurban commitment to restore judges has left many despondent. The liberal members of civil society, many of the students and some of the lawyers feel abandoned. Indeed, it is unclear at present how things will turn out in the end or which way the tide will flow.

It is also apparent the whole affair has become a highly politicized one. The show in Lahore on June 12 was very much a PML-N one. Addressing a pre-departure rally, swollen by the influx of large numbers of flag-waving party workers, Mian Nawaz Sharif held little back in making his own position known. Though he did not stop the ‘Go Musharraf go’ slogans that rang out everywhere, he did stress that there was little point in wasting energy on a crippled president who, at one point or the other, would need to go. Instead, he urged people to focus attention on the judges. Nawaz Sharif also directed a controlled, but nonetheless harsh, attack on his PPP allies for failing to live up to promises � and issued a warning that if a parliamentary resolution restoring the judges was not moved, the people would move to restore them. Some within the PPP have construed this as a direct threat. The emphatic proposal from Imran Khan that the PML-N itself table a resolution for judicial restoration in the National Assembly is a suggestion that has now come in from several quarters and certainly needs to be considered. It raises the possibility of a truly intriguing scenario in parliament should the PML-N act on it.

The detailed accord, designed to keep peace with the marchers, worked out by the government, has achieved its purpose. The violent baton-charges of the past have mercifully not been repeated. Indeed the decision to ‘assist’ the long marchers was the only possible decision for the PPP. The party continues to face a fierce volley of attack from both within and outside its ranks for its ambiguous stance on the judicial issue, and as such could not have afforded a confrontation with the lawyers. The nightmare scenario of pro-judiciary protesters battling government forces outside parliament is one that had been brought up by party leaders at internal meetings. The PPP has acted wisely in ensuring it is avoided.

But as for the future, many things are still far from certain. It is not clear when and if Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry will regain his position. He himself has made it clear that any cut in the Supreme Court’s powers would be unacceptable and illegal. He, and other judges, remain as strident and determined as ever � but for the present doubt still shrouds their future, as it does that of the truly independent judiciary that the country so urgently needs.


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