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Beginning of a New Era in Pakistan

By Dr. V.P. Vaidik
March 21, 2009

What happened in Pakistan recently is beyond one’s imagination. Reinstating of Chief Justice Iftikar Choudhary and legal restoration of Sharif Brothers is no less than a political miracle. One can only imagine the repercussions, if Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani would not have made the declaration of reinstating the judges. Many American political gurus and Pakistan-specialists were sharing their fear with me last week in Washington, DC about the possibility of either a military coup or the balkanization of Pakistan. The specter of Bangladesh had once again started haunting Pakistan. Many political movements have taken place earlier in Pakistan’s history but the present movement was really unique in the sense that many police and civil officials just ignored the Central Government’s orders. The Lahore police refused to put Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif under house arrest. Police and Administrative officers preferred to resign rather than obey the government. Sharif brothers’ ‘long march’ actually turned out to be a ‘National Movement’. Not only Sharifs’ Muslim League but many famous leaders and workers from PPP, government officials, lawyers, retired army officers and ordinary people from all walks of life also joined the movement.

Surrounded from all sides Zardari looked much more vulnerable than Musharraf during his last days in office.

Pakistani army and America also did not come to Zardari’s rescue. The third savior of Pakistan, the Allah, perhaps observed perfect neutrality. On the one hand, Hillary Clinton remained tough and, on the other, Gen. A.P. Kayani did some straight-talking with Prime Minister Y.R. Gilani, who was wise enough to move quickly. Gilani took charge of the sensitive situation and announced the reinstatment of the Judges. The fact that in this entire episode Gilani gained an upper hand over Zardari, has the potential of creating bad blood between both of them. This has inadvertently created a natural premise for downsizing the powers of the President of Pakistan. All political parties are ready to put an end to the 17th amendment of the constitution. In other words, one can look forward to a happy outcome to this political crisis. Circumscribing the constitutional powers of the President and re-establishing those of the Prime Minister will definitely reenergize Pakistan’s democracy.

Had this tug-of-war not been resolved, the army would have been the real political beneficiary. The army would have risen several notches in public estimation and the democratic leaders would have once again proven to be a dismal failure. Although America is an ardent advocate of democracy in Pakistan, however, in the above scenario, America would have been forced to support the army. No country can afford to sacrifice its national interest for the sake of other country’s supposed democracy. The political quarrel between Muslim League and PPP would have jeopardized the American interests and the fight against terrorism would have been totally sidetracked. In the end, America’s straight talking augured well for Pakistan and resolved the dangerous crisis but in this entire affair, one major issue received very little attention, i.e., the issue of Pakistan’s sovereignty. India and China, in their own case, would have seen the same role played by America as an abject outside interference. They would have never allowed or tolerated it. Pakistan’s inability to perceive America’s role as ‘interference’ demonstrates the country’s lack of sense of sovereignty and it’s puppet-like status.

In the end, Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhary and about other 60 judges will be reinstated. One can only hope that Choudhary holds his balance and does not start settling old scores. Choudhary has constitutional power to declare the last elections as ultra vires, which brought Zardari to power and he can also declare the political amnesty extended to Benazir Bhutto and Zardari during Musharrf’s regime as unlawful. This could be ominus for the future of democracy in Pakistan. Greater restraint and farsightedness is expected of Choudhary. As far as Sharif brothers are concerned, they will come out clean from Choudhary’s court and one can safely assume that Shahbaz Sharif will be the Chief Minister of Punjab once again. This is not enough. Much more is required of the democratic leaders of Pakistan. Muslim League and PPP have no option but to stop their political quarrels and join forces to set up a strong Coalition government in Punjab as well as at the Center. This is the only way they can keep the army on leash and fight terrorism at the same time. The unity of these two major political parties is a sure guarantee of good relation with India. The Coatition can successfully satisfy India on the question of Mumbai attack without the fear of loosing their popularity by getting into the futile rival posturing. Improved relations with India can also help Pakistan reduce its military expenditure. What Pakistan needs most toady is the early economic recovery. Nawaz Sharif has earned a great deal of political capital in this event and Prime Minister Gilani has displayed statesman-like acumen. If these two leaders desire, they can start a new era in Pakistan’s politics. There is no doubt that they will be arch rivals in the next elections but until then is it not possible that both work towards fulfilling the dream of Quaid-e-Azam, M.A. Jinnah of a democratic and prosperous Pakistan.

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