On Sunday, Pakistan’s main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan People’s Party officially entered into an agreement to form a coalition government. Pakistan’s Daily Times specified the power-sharing formula would apply to central government as well as the provincial government in Punjab. The news agency added, “According to the deal, the prime minister and the speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly will be from the PPP, and the federal cabinet will include ministers from the PML-N. The Punjab chief minister and the speaker and the deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly will be from the PML-N and the provincial cabinet will include ministers from the PPP.”
According to both the NY Times and the Washington Post, the leaders of the two parties, “in an unexpectedly strong show of unity against President Pervez Musharraf,” also agreed that they would reinstate the judges fired by the president and “would seek to strip him of crucial powers.” The Post noted the judges, presumably including ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, would return to the bench within a month. Nawaz Sharif, after what media outlets dubbed a “marathon meeting” between members of his party and Asif Zardari‘s PPP, told reporters, “The restoration of the deposed judges, as it was on the 2nd of November 2007, shall be brought about through a parliamentary resolution to be passed in the National Assembly within 30 days of the formation of the federal government.” However, the Associated Press reported that Zardari “muddled” the issue by saying the current justices would not be “disturbed.”
The NY Times highlighted the significance of this deal in its coverage, noting, “The accord created a direct threat to Mr. Musharraf because the restored judges could act on petitions challenging the validity of his re-election last October when he was still head of the army.” The deal therefore “dashed the hopes of the Bush administration that Parliament would work in harmony with Mr. Musharraf.” According to Reuters, the Pashtun nationalist party, the Awami National Party (ANP) will also be part of the PPP-led coalition, and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) agreed “in principle” to join the coalition.
The restoration of the judiciary, as seen today, continues to be the most symbolic issue in the country prior to and following the elections. On Sunday, hundreds of lawyers (about 500, according to the Washington Post), marched on Sunday to Chaudhry’s home to demand an end to his four-month house arrest. According to the Post, “Waving black flags, dozens shouted for Musharraf, the former army chief, to be hanged. Several protesters tried to cut through a barbed-wire barricade on the road near Chaudhry’s home.” Protests for the restoration of the judiciary have become routine in the country since last year. On Saturday, “hundreds of black-suited lawyers” were led by Aitzaz Ahsan, the Supreme Court Bar Association president and PPP politician, in a march that kicked off a week-long protest dubbed, “Black Flag Week.” According to Pakistaniat.com, Aitzaz’s current stature as a now national leader of the country’s civil movement is “a passionate call. A well-worded call. A heart-felt call. A non-partisan call. A call to support constitutionalism. A call that asks no one to break the law, but everyone to register their calling. It is a call that is compelling.”
What will be interesting to watch, however, is the ambiguity regarding this “restoration of the judiciary,” now officially promised by the PPP-PML-N coalition government. Zardari’s reportedly “muddled” statements, telling reporters that the current judges will “not be disturbed,” is significant – what will satisfy this now very unified civil movement? I am under the impression that there is no room for ambiguity, given the passion behind the lawyers’ protests. Therefore, it will be important to pay attention to what this new government must do to appease and quell this ever-burgeoning movement. It is interesting – the elected political parties, the lawyers’ movement, and other elements of Pakistani society were all unified prior to the elections under the anti-Musharraf banner – with the political process now underway and the impending exit of Musharraf, this “unity” could crumble very easily. [Images from the NY Times, see prior link]