Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dem. in Pakistan 09-03-18

Civil Revolution may Usher a Constitutional Democracy in Pakistan

Mirza A. Beg

Written Wednesday March 18, 2009

Counter Currents, Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday March 22, 2009

Indian Muslim, India, Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pakistan avoided yet another crisis. Although oscillating between corrupt civilian governments and military dictatorships, crises have been a way of life for Pakistan. But this crisis was different. It was not particularly for or against a leader. It was the third act of a grass-roots movement, led by the lawyers, in favor of the rule of law under a constitutional framework.

Pakistan appears to be on the verge of emerging as a functioning constitutional democracy, with primacy of laws and constitution that has eluded Pakistan for 61 years of its checkered history.

Three times in the span of two years the lawyers, men and women in their somber black coats defied the illegal edicts of the government and succeeded in forcing the government to back down.

The Current Crisis:
The current crisis precipitated when, presumably with the connivance of President Zardari the current Supreme Court (largely considered illegitimate) barred the leader of opposition Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shabaz from contesting elections and holding offices. President Zardari recklessly dismissed the Shabaz led government of Panjab, the most populous province.

This brought out the Lawyers back on the streets for the third time with planned marches to the capital Islamabad, demanding the restoration of Supreme Court justices fired by the former President Musharraf, and as promised by Mr. Zardari in February 2008 elections. The leader of the opposition Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s joined in the protest.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of President Zardari, in the face of massive civil demonstrations averted its breakup when President Zardari yielded to the pressure from the senior leaders of the PPP led by the Prime Minister Gilani, the United States and the Military. Prime Minister Gilani diffused the crisis by announcing that the Supreme Court Judges and the former Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry will resume offices following the resignation of the current justices (considered illegal) on the 21st of March. It led to widespread nation wide jubilation.

This was not a win for Mr. Sharif, though he is the beneficiary of it. Large sections of the population consider Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif as corrupt and there have been legal verdicts against them. It is the victory of a movement led by lawyers demanding respect for the constitution and the rule of law.

The first and second civil disobedience movement of lawyers:
The first time the lawyers led the movement for the rule of law March 2007, when on irrelevant charges President, General Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Chaudhry for taking up the petition on behalf of hundreds of people missing, allegedly at secret detention centers accused of terrorism. Eventually he was exonerated and General Musharraf backed down.

The movement sprang up the second time in November 2007, when only days before the Supreme Court of Pakistan was to give its verdict on a petition challenging the constitutionality of President, General Musharraf’s re-election in October 2007, because he held on to the post of the chief of staff of the army simultaneously. President Musharraf suspended the constitution, jailed several justices of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry and appointed a new slate of judges who ruled in his favor. But under the intense pressure of the civil disobedience led by the legal profession, General Musharraf had to yield and gave up the post of the Army Chief of Staff, appointing General Kayani in his place.

The elections of 2008 and Mr. Zardari’s rise to power:
New Assembly elections were held in February 2008. The two main opposition parties, the PPP led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the Faction of Pakistan Muslim League (PLM) led by the Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had one thing in common, the promise to reinstate the fired Chief Justice and other judges.

PPP leader Benazir Bhutto fell to an assassin’s bullet at an election rally on the 27th of December 2007. Her Husband and a reviled figure in Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari stepped into the vacuum and partly as a sympathy vote for popular Benazir Bhutto the PPP won the largest share of seats followed by PLM. Since no party won an outright majority, the two largest parties PPP and PLM formed a coalition government.

The coalition broke up when Mr. Zardari reneged on his promise to reinstate the ousted judges by the President Musharraf. In August 2008, President Musharraf resigned under a threat of impeachment and in September Mr. Zardari was elected the President of Pakistan. Since then Mr. Zardari has reneged on all the inconvenient promises and has tried to accrue power.

Pakistan has floundered rudderless in the crosscurrents of internal power struggle between the corrupt civilian governments and endemic coups by the military dictators; and external pressure from the United States to serve its foreign policy aims through the Pakistani military for the last fifty years. The result has been complete decimation of the Pakistani judiciary. The Supreme Court has become the handmaiden of who ever holds the reins of power. Chief Justices have been appointed and fired at the whims of the government in power many times.

The new opportunity for Pakistan:
Fortunately for Pakistan Mr. Zardari was thwarted by the third civil disobedience by the lawyers. The power equation has also changed. Unlike the past, the forces that traditionally supported those in power in Pakistan had to take other realities into consideration.

The American government is the main economic backer of Pakistan, but under President Obama, it realizes that the war on terrorism can not be won by propping corrupt oppressive regimes. President Obama conveyed his strong disapproval of Mr. Zardari’s grab for power. The army, the most important instrument of power in Pakistan had had enough under President, General Musharraf. The new Chief of Staff General Kayani told Mr. Zardari in no uncertain term that the Army will not intervene to support him. The top leadership of PPP including the Prime Minister Mr. Gilani, weary of Mr. Zardari’s leadership, let him know that they were not behind him. And finally the police that was supposed to stop the marchers refused to use force on the silent peaceful marchers, except at some places in Karachi the strong hold of PPP.

The change in circumstances will exert an enormous pressure on all concerned. The reinstated Chief Justice Chaudhry will feel the weight of responsibility to make the Supreme Court a true guardian of the constitution. The Army had had enough for the time being and will try to influence the government, but not as heavy handedly, and the politicians have learnt at least for the immediate future that they can not take people to be supine as before. The lawyers movement has shown no ulterior motive to form a competing center of power, it has disbanded after every success to pursue their private lives. Yet it has rejuvenated in the times of need.

The maturing of Pakistan as a constitutional democracy will strengthen the authority of the elected government and will obviously be good for Pakistan. It will also be beneficial to countries with interest in Pakistan. Though it will take time, but after eight years of floundering in Afghanistan the new Obama administration realizes that US efforts in combating the terrorism will succeed only if Pakistan is not a failed state. A constitutional democracy in Pakistan will also be better for India because the relations will not depend on the whims of individuals. It will lead to better cooperation and enhance the possibility of reconciliation between two democratically elected constitutional governments.
Mirza A. Beg may be contacted at or at

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