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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 14, March 21, 2009

Momentous Victory for Pakistani People


Saturday 21 March 2009, by SC

It has indeed been a momentous victory for the people of Pakistan. While the pre-poll political alignments and realignments as well as seat-sharing problems plus inner-party dissidence and bickerings (alongside blatantly communal pronouncements by at least one notable person in the electoral fray) on the national plane hog the headlines in our newspapers every day, these literally pale into insignificance before the latest extraordinary developments in our northwestern neighbouring state whose cumulative effect is bound to strengthen both mass politics and democracy, still quite fragile there.

With former PM and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif defying house arrest in Lahore and leading thousands of his supporters on the Long March to Islamabad (that was launched earlier by lawyers in Karachi) the stage was set for a showdown with the authorities. This was the time when Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, under directive from the US establish-ment including the Pentagon (keen to defuse the civilian crisis so as to enable the Pakistani polity unitedly meet the threat from the Taliban now closing in on Peshawar), plunged into hectic confabulations with both the President and the PM urging them to accept the demands of Nawaz Sharif, principally the restoration of the judiciary along with the Chief Justice (sacked by former President Pervez Musharraf after the country was placed under Emergency rule on November 2, 2007) as well as revocation of Governor‘s rule in Punjab (brought about by an executive fiat following a Supreme Court verdict debarring Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, the Punjab CM, from contesting elections and holding public office) and abrogation of the SC judgement against the Sharif brothers. While PM Yusuf Raza Gilani appeared agreeable, President Asif Ali Zardari held out till the last moment opposing the reinstatement of ex-Chief Justice Iftikhar M. Chaudhry (presumably out of fear that the latter could reopen a trial against him by quashing the highly unpopular National Reconciliation Order, the product of a deal both Zardari and his late wife, Benazir, had struck with the then President, Pervez Musharraf, granting them amnesty from alleged corruption charges which are of monumental proportions as far as the present President is concerned). Finally, after nightlong negotiations (and just when the Long March to the country‘s parliament in Islamabad seemed inevitable, even as several senior police officials were seen resigning and crossing over to join Nawaz Sharif‘s programme of storming parliament) early in the morning at 5.50 am on March 16, PM Gilani announced on television that (i) Chaudhry and the other SC judges sacked by Musharraf after imposition of Emergency in November 2007 are to be reinstated (with the former CJ taking over from the incumbent CJ, Abdul Hamid Dogar, following the latter‘s retirement on March 21); (ii) the government is to file an appeal in the Supreme Court against the February 25, 2009 SC ruling disqualifying the Sharif brothers from contesting elections and holding public office (thereby enabling Shahbaz Sharif to return as the Punjab CM). Shortly after Gilani‘s televised address to the nation, Nawaz Sharif called off the proposed march to parliament while the public, especially lawyers, across the country exploded in widespread jubilation.

No doubt in this whole episode Nawaz Sharif has emerged as the real winner. By correctly gauging the public mood and immediately responding to it (even if he was goaded by Pakistan‘s overseas patrons in the US), Army Chief Kayani has been able to boost the military‘s image badly tarnished during Musharraf‘s infamous rule that lasted more than eight years. By quickly realising the enormity of the danger and making instant amends PM Gilani has also enhanced his stature. But President Zardari being the biggest loser, his position and prestige have been substantially weakened—the damage seems irreparable even if he survives; he has shown himself up to be a selfish businessman only concerned with promoting his own interests and one who is totally divorced from the people‘s urges and aspirations.

Inevitably the Pakistani polity is moving towards nullifying the 17th Amendment that gave sweeping powers to the President—this was used by both Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf to throttle civilian governments in the past. Nawaz Sharif has already called for repealing this obnoxious provision smacking of authoritarianism if not dictatorship. Once this happens—in all probability it is just a matter of time—Zardari‘s wings would be suitably clipped and the PMO would emerge as the most powerful office in Pakistan as in India.

Thus the possibility of futher democratisation of the state, consolidation of people‘s power and rule of law has been unveiled in our neighbouring country. As Indian citizens we all need to rejoice at this welcome turn of events that augurs well for South Asia as a whole. And it will also give a new fillip to the war on terror all of us are waging in the region against the dark forces of regressive extremism employing the terrorist methodology to further their nefarious aims.

March 19 S.C.

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