The sceptics I met in the last few years in London have all been surprised by the election results in Pakistan. Many of them used to meet Mian Nawaz Sharif and his brother Mian Shahbaz Sharif who led a life of exile in London.
They were also in touch with Ms Benazir Bhutto as she too divided her time between Dubai and London, barring her visits to Washington. Most of them thought Q League, the king’s party, would win as it had the support of the establishment. Little did they realize that the lawyers’ movement inspired by Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s defiance of Musharraf had fired the imagination of the people.
I know that some members of the civil society used their meager resources to run advocacy campaigns abroad to raise the awareness of the European Parliament that led to hard hitting resolutions, calling for restoration of democracy in Pakistan. The hard work and sheer sincerity of the campaigning individuals had the desired effect. With it, or because of it, the world pressure for free and fair elections built up.
Musharraf and Q League failed to deliver good governance in spite of eight years’ incumbency. The murder of Benazir Bhutto, food shortages, power outages and soaring prices aggravated the situation. Living in a cocoon, power drunk, they lost touch with reality. In the event, the people spoke and in spite of the rigging by the government gave a massive verdict against the Q League.
Last summer my European friends did not see the obvious and expected Musharraf to pull it off. I suspect that they were wishfully thinking. Most of them believed he stood between them and terrorism. Hook, line and sinker, they took his bait. The dismal defeat of Musharraf supporters, thus, had to come as a shock.
The post election scene in Pakistan has some risks. Although the winning alliance has publicly vowed to stay together, there are issues between them, principally the restoration of the judges Musharraf removed illegally on the 3rd of November last year. The agreement the PPP and Muslim League signed in Murree after winning the election committed both sides to the restoration of the judges without ifs and buts.
On account of the western pressure to save Musharraf, the PPP has second thoughts on that commitment. They know that Musharraf is on a weak legal wicket as the President if Justice Chowdhry is reinstated. Musharraf removed him in the first place because he feared being declared unqualified by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, the co-Chairman of the PPP, has a personal grievance against the judges also. He had no help from them when he was being hounded. Whether it is the deal with Musharraf or a genuine desire for an overall legal reform, Zardari wants the CJ’s wings clipped before he is reinstated. The idea is to appear to be saving Musharraf.
Mian Nawaz Sharif has a clear view of the situation. He wants the restoration of the judges for two reasons. One, he believes that the massive vote he got in the Punjab, the largest province, was because he stood for the restoration of the illegally removed judges and two, all MPs of his party are under party oath to ensure it.
Mr. Zardari is not entirely happy with the lawyers’ movement which is led by Aitzaz Ahsan, an eminent Barrister, fiery speaker, the elected President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, a PPP stalwart who has become a national hero first as Chief Justice Iftikhar Chowdhry’s advocate and then as the leader of the lawyers’ movement. Party insiders believe Mr. Asif Zardari has reservations on Aitzaz’s popularity.
Negotiations between the leadership of the two parties over the judges’ issue have been concluded in Dubai, the 1st May. Mian Nawaz Sharif joined Mian Shahbaz Sharif in the negotiations the day before. As an upshot of the discussions, Mian Nawaz Sharif is reported to have announced today, Friday, in Lahore that they have agreed to restore 60 judges removed illegally by Musharraf in November 2007 through a parliamentary resolution.
Farooq Naik, the Law Minister (PPP), heads the six-member committee they have appointed to draft the resolution. Aitzaz Ahsan is on the committee: the ruling alliance did not collapse.
My friends in London now ask me if the ruling coalition will hold, to which I answer yes. Yes for the simple reason that neither party has the caliber or the support to pull it off on its own. PPP, in particular, is under serious intra-party strains.
From March 2007 the lawyers and a revived civil society have become a balancing force in politics, which will not allow any party to back track on election promises. Also the coalition cannot but be aware of the persisting threat of anti democratic forces. And that is why I think they shall stick together and decide the issue of the judiciary, with a degree of compromise may be, but soon.