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Archive for March 15th, 2009

[Image from NY Times]

Not too long ago, Pakistan state television aired PM Yousaf Raza Gilani‘s speech, officially announcing what we all knew a few hours ago – that the government is restoring Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, effective March 21. The wait for the pre-recorded speech was long, to say the least, [people on twitter and Teeth Maestro’s live chat waited for a good three hours from when the news broke].

Here are the positives – the CJP will be restored, hence fulfilling the primary objective of the judiciary movement and the Long March.  Moreover, reported GEO News, “The prime minister said that after consultations with all political forces of the country and President Asif Ali Zardari, the government has decided to restore all deposed judges,” not just Chaudhry. In his speech, Gilani said the reason Chaudhry was not restored before was because “the office of the Chief Justice was occupied.” However, because current Chief Justice Dogar will retire March 21 , “it is therefore the right time to reinstate Iftikhar,” he asserted. Gilani also announced that provincial governments have been ordered to lift Section 144 [banning protests and marches] and release all detained prisoners, another plus given how many activists and lawyers were jailed amid this weekend’s tumultuous developments.

Interestingly, a government official told Reuters that along with Chaudhry’s reinstatement “there will also be a constitutional package,” although no mention of such a deal was made in Gilani’s address. There was also no mention of the future of Salman Taseer, the [unpopular] governor of Punjab [see this interesting article about Taseer’s son], although the PM did note in his speech that the Supreme Court decisions of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif will be reviewed. That announcement marked a definite victory for the PML-N and its supporters, and Nawaz subsequently called off Monday’s planned march to Islamabad.

Media outlets have reported that the military played a prominent role in today’s announcement, albeit from behind the scenes. According to Dawn,

Highly placed sources said that the Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani frankly told both President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that they need to undo some of controversial decisions before the situation spirals out of control. These sources said it was after his not-so-veiled warning that the two top civilian leaders agreed to roll-back some of the controversial decisions of the previous and present governments, including the sacking of the chief justice of Pakistan.

The NY Times noted that the COAS emphasized “he wants to keep the army out of politics, but there was renewed speculation about how long the patience of the army would hold,” while the Reuters blog, Pakistan: Now or Never echoed my sentiments exactly: “…the deal to reinstate Chaudhry may have been achieved as a result of prodding from the Pakistan Army, which begs the question of how well civilian democracy can flourish in Pakistan if it has to be underwritten by the country’s powerful military. His promised reinstatement — announced after days of negotiations — may carry with it a political deal whose outcome and required allegiances we are yet to discover.”

What I found both fascinating and infuriating in Gilani’s speech was how he framed the PPP and President Zardari. Not only did he congratulate Bilawal and Asif Zardari for “Pakistan’s achievements today,” but he glorified the party’s role in the judiciary movement, noting, “the lawyers and the PPP had been together for the cause of justice and democracy…Benazir Bhutto wanted free judiciary and supremacy of the constitution and she had promised for his restoration. PPP respects the educated segment of the society.”

The effort to frame the government and Zardari in a positive light [by reminding the people of Benazir’s role] is not surprising but still appalling given the police’s treatment of the lawyers and activists this weekend. With technology tools like blogs, live chats, and twitter, reports of police beatings and detainments were abound. The most shocking allegations were those related to the treatment of female activists in the Long March. According to a March 13 press release by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [HRCP]:

Not only lawyers and their supporters are being denied their right to freedom of movement, those joining peaceful processions are being subjected to violence. Neither women nor senior citizens are being spared. HRCP strongly condemns the use of brute force on Ms. Musarrat Hilali, not only because she is HRCP vice-chairperson for Frontier province but also because she is a widely respected advocate and has done a lot for the have-nots in Peshawar and across the country. The police had no right to break into her house and intimidate and abuse her family members.

And here’s the heart-wrenching exchange between civil rights activist Tahira Abdullah and Sherry Rehman [a day before her resignation], in which Abdullah breaks down and accused the right hand of the PPP of not knowing what the left hand is doing:

The Long March’s victory today was not because of the PPP – it was in spite of the government’s attempts to thwart the people’s movement. It succeeded despite the state’s attempts to beat, block and detain its own population from voicing their protests. The achievements today, despite what happens next in Pakistan’s political arena, lie with the people of the Long March – not with the politicians. As someone who took part in Teeth Maestro‘s incredible live chat and carefully followed this weekend’s developments, I can state with certainty that I have never witnessed people so dedicated to a cause. Their resolve to hold the government accountable for its promises did not falter – and that was incredibly inspiring. In a CS Monitor blog entry Sunday, Ben Arnoldy wrote, “‘I don’t think in the United States people would ever rally in the streets around a group of lawyers. Where I come from, lawyers aren’t very popular,’ I told one advocate over a cup of tea. He laughed heartily, and said, ‘Even little children here are saying ‘independent judiciary.‘”

I’m not going to mar my write-up today with my usual pragmatic cynicism. Instead, I will end this post with a heart-felt congratulations to all those who supported and were involved in the Long March. This is the tremendous victory you all were working towards, and I sincerely hope it means more positive things – at least for the future of our country’s judiciary. As a fellow citizen, I thank you for your efforts and your sacrifices.

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