Chief Justice Reinstated in Pakistan; Protest Rally in Capital Cancelled; Crisis subsiding

The immediate crisis in Pakistan was averted Monday morning when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that he was going to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudhry as chief justice of the supreme court. Chaudhry had been dismissed by dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2007 in a particularly lawless way.

Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif had defied the attempt of the government of President Asaf Ali Zardari to confine him to house arrest and was leading a procession to the capital from Lahore when he heard the news, at Gujranwala. He then called off the “Long March”, which aimed at rallying for the reinstatement.

Sharif was himself an extremely high-handed and dictatorial prime minister who violated press freedom and tried to move the country toward more Islamic law, and he wasn’t exactly a friend to poor people, so I personally don’t trust his pledge to help Pakistan achieve real democracy.

The intervention with Zardari of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is said to have been important in moving the government toward compromise.

But it seems obvious that the Punjab police and judicial authorities more or less mutinied against the Federal government on Sunday, allowing Sharif to escape house arrest and to lead big protests and to set out for Islamabad. It reminded me of when the Iranian soldiers refused to fire on protesters rallying against the Shah in fall of 1978. That was a prelude to revolution.

Certainly the overturning of Musharraf’s illegal dismissal of Chaudhry has an up side if it begins to undermine the edifice of arbitrary military dictatorship from which Pakistan has so often suffered. It would be more promising if Chaudhry had himself opposed that dictatorship before he was dismissed.

The crisis is not over. The Punjabi population resents Zardari’s imposition of ‘governor’s rule” or a Federal take-over of the province, which has an elected provincial legislature in which the PMLN is the leading party. And, the Sharifs are not going to put up with being excluded from politics, and Zardari and his courts tried to do.

Those issues have to be resolved before the political situation can calm down. Moreover, Iftikhar Chaudhry is himself an iconoclast, and what if he indicts Musharraf or even Zardari? Or maybe Dick Cheney. If Chaudhry is worried about Pakistanis who were made to disappear without habeas corpus or formal legal proceedings, as part of a ‘war on terror,’ I have suggestions for perpetrators he should look into, who now live in Texas.

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