About 1,000 Pakistani lawyers and political activists gathered on Monday for the beginning of the widely-covered cross country rally, dubbed the “Long March.” This march “was heralded by gatherings in major cities and is expected to culminate later this week with a rally and sit-in outside parliament” in Pakistan’s capital, noted the Associated Press. Reuters reported today, “The protest, due to reach Islamabad on Friday, will increase pressure on staunch U.S. ally Musharraf to step down.” This follows a week of heightened rumors over the president’s impeachment or exit from office. Although Musharraf attempted to quash such speculation on Saturday, [see related post] statements regarding his exit were nevertheless abound yesterday and today.
According to The News, PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari made it clear on Sunday that he did not accept Pervez Musharraf as the “constitutional president” because he was there by default…” A follow-up article in The News today reported the co-chairman “held important meetings in Saudi Arabia in which he directed PPP leadership to get ready for President Musharraf’s impeachment.” While I am increasingly skeptical of the overflowing speculation published by some media outlets, it is clear that the “Impeach Musharraf” chants will not go away anytime soon. And they’re not only from the PPP and lawyers’ movement.
On Sunday, Shahbaz Sharif, PML-N president and brother of the party’s leader, Nawaz Sharif, asserted that no one “can work with President Pervez Musharraf because he is an unconstitutional head of state.” Shahbaz made these statements after taking oath for his newly elected Chief Minister of Punjab office yesterday, reported Dawn. A separate article from the news agency reported, “The Pakistan Muslim League-N has formulated a 10-point chargesheet for a resolution to impeach President Pervez Musharraf and hopes that its coalition partners will move it if Gen. (ret.) Musharraf does not resign.” Some of the allegations include Musharraf’s imposition of martial law in Pakistan twice, his initiated “Kargil misadventure,” and its subsequent concealment from the government, the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti, as well as the disappearance of thousands of Baloch political workers.
What is interesting about this “Long March,” is that it is not just protesting the failures of the Musharraf government, but also the newly elected government’s inability to deliver on its promise of reinstating Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and about 60 other judges. CNN noted in its coverage today,
The movement had new hope after opposition parties won a majority of seats in parliament over Musharraf’s ruling party. The two main opposition parties formed a coalition and pledged to restore the judges within 30 days of parliament’s first session. More than five weeks after their self-imposed deadline, the sacked judges still do not have their jobs back and Pakistan’s lawyers are growing impatient.
Athar Minullah, the spokesman for the deposed Chief Justice, told CNN, “They promised the nation that that is what they will do. They set a date for themselves, a 30-day period.” The news agency also cited political analyst Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, who noted the lawyers’ protest “adds more pressure to a young government that is already struggling with terrorism and rising food and fuel prices.” He added, “Such a big onslaught of citizens marching on the national capital, I think it’s a very bad omen for democracy, for the new government, for the country.”
Despite such statements, it is clear that Musharraf is still the main target for blame – a fact evidenced today by those burning him in effigy, as well as the loud chants of “Go Musharraf Go” from the streets of Karachi, Quetta, and Multan. How long he will remain the main culprit may depend on the new government’s speed in resolving the judiciary issue. [Images from CNN and AP]