Mar 17, 2009

In our own hands

We frequently persuade ourselves that all decision-making in the country lies outside realms controlled by people and it is indeed Washington or other powers, both internal and external, who dictate terms to us. The momentous events of early Monday morning should be enough to persuade us that we, as citizens, have the power to alter the destiny of our country and its people. The strength to do so lies in our own hands. Using that force is a matter of choice.The restoration of the judges ends, for the moment at least, a two-year struggle to undo the wrong committed on November 3, 2007, when emergency was declared and a series of illegal actions taken under its cover. Since that day, former president Pervez Musharraf has been forced out of office – again because people wished to see him make an exit. Now, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry should, within days, resume charge as chief justice of Pakistan and the other judges ousted with him returned to benches. There is indeed plenty to cheer about. In the streets of Quetta, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Multan, Rawalpindi and other places the beat of drums rings out loud and clear. Joy has replaced uncertainty; people have been rewarded for their determined show in Lahore on Sunday, as streets filled with swarms of people and the police slid silently away. The containers moved in at enormous expense to thwart protesters eventually proved to have been of no use at all. Mian Nawaz Sharif has demonstrated his strength and proved inaccurate those who insisted that the PML-N had no street power. Prime Minister Gilani, denounced for months as a powerless puppet, has demonstrated that he possesses the ability to rise to the occasion and act independently when the need to do so is greatest. His steadfast effort to achieve reconciliation may have saved us all from yet more days of turmoil and destructive strife.It is true that there is still some sense of confusion. People ask why activists who stand for liberal values have aligned themselves with forces of the right, including the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The fact that Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is not an uncontroversial character has been brought up. The lawyers and the PML-N have been accused of working with the establishment to destabilise a PPP government. This chaos of thoughts is an outcome of our particular political situation. We have seen the way in which past democratic governments have been maligned and brought down. Benazir Bhutto was a victim of such doings. Suspicion is rooted deep within our psyche. It is difficult to dispel it. But the fact that parties no longer follow ideological lines; that the ANP and the PPP have backed Sharia in Swat and aligned themselves with the ultra-right JUI of Maulana Fazlur Rehman are also matters to be considered. Principle must in such circumstances prevail above the question of ideological affiliation or party loyalty. The issue is not that of an individual's character or standing. Basing decisions on such factors can create only more disarray. Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had been wrongly removed from office. His restoration is, for this reason alone, the right thing to do. There can be no ambiguity about that. The refusal of the chief justice to compromise has paid off.But amidst the rejoicing, there is also some need for caution. In the first place, we must hope that the promise to restore the deposed chief justice next week, on March 21 when Justice Dogar steps down, will be fully honoured. We have been witness to so many broken promises that all trust and faith has vanished. The prime minister must ensure it is restored. There is also a lack of clarity about what is planned in Punjab. People seek a restoration of a PML-N government. It is also not known as yet whether Governor Salmaan Taseer will have the grace to quit. Voices in Islamabad are blaming him for 'misguiding' the president – who appears to be incapable of reaching his own decisions. There are other figures too for whom people are gunning. But the immediate need is to reintroduce democracy in the country's largest province, allow its assembly to meet as soon as possible and elect its leader. The administration must be enabled to begin working smoothly once more and the ugly games of transfers and new appointments ended.Other concerns are also cropping up. We are still not sure what is to become of the 'PCO' judges who took oath alongside Justice Dogar. This could become the subject of a new dispute with Mian Nawaz Sharif who, puffed up by the intoxicating power of success, may not be in any mood to compromise. Some fear too the opening up of a Pandora's box of cases, most notably that concerning the legitimacy of the NRO. We do not know if any deal has been struck on this behind closed doors; the outlines of the agreements that led to the dramatic announcement restoring the judges are still not known. Some efforts to play the 'Sindh' card also appear to be on. This is unfortunate and we must hope this factor is not played up in the future. What we need, most of all, at present is national harmony and integrity. The PML-N must play a role in this and prove itself to be a party able to reach out across provincial boundaries. We do not know how President Zardari reads the events of the past day or what his plans for the future are. It is assumed we will receive the answers to some of these questions in the coming days as the world heaves a collective sigh of relief over the end to chaos in Pakistan.It is also important to remember this cannot be the end of the journey. The prime purpose behind the lawyers' campaign was to establish judicial independence. This quest must continue. In the longer run it is the stability of our institutions and their ability to play the role laid down for them in the constitution that can prevent Pakistan from being thrown into yet another period of turbulence in the future. These institutions must be strengthened and the achievement of the long marchers used as a means to help make further change possible. We could then truly say we have embarked on a journey towards success and a lasting change in Pakistan's fortunes.

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