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Saturday, 31 January 2009

Talat Hussain: An analysis of Long March and Nawaz Sharif's options...

Qadam barhao Nawaz Sharif, hum tumharay saath hain?

Talat Hussain


PML-N’s dangerous gamble

IN a democracy, the right to protest is fundamental and, if conducted peacefully, should not be opposed. From this perspective, the PML-N’s decision to throw its weight behind the lawyers’ protest in Islamabad on March 9 is well within the norms of democracy. Moreover, the PML-N has not reached this point in undue haste: it joined the federal cabinet after signing the Murree Declaration which called for the restoration of the pre-Nov 3, 2007 judiciary and, after the PPP-led government failed to fulfil its promise, the PML-N has lobbied from the opposition for the full restoration of the judiciary for nearly nine months now. The government’s claim that the vast majority of the deposed judges have been reappointed and, therefore, the lawyers’ movement has lost its raison d’être is weak. The central figure in the judges’ issue is deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chau-dhry and until his restoration it is difficult to argue that the lawyers and their supporters have no reason to protest.

Yet, though we accept the justness of the lawyers’ cause and the PML-N’s right to support them, we question whether now is the time to return to the politics of agitation. The transition to democracy which began last February is still at a delicate stage and the challenges facing the country — from militancy to the economy to political stability — are immense. While the principles of democracy are clear, so is the ever-present threat from undemocratic forces in the country. The history of street protests in Pakistan suggests that what begins as a genuine grievance snowballs into a systemic crisis and is exploited by others to undermine a fragile democracy. Tens of thousands of protesters converging on Islamabad and engaging in a stand-off with the government is a situation that has the potential to deteriorate into an ugly confrontation, in which the only winners will be the undemocratic forces. The judicial institution is a key pillar of a democratic state and its integrity and independence must be defended. But Pakistan is one of those unfortunate states in which upping the ante in defence of one institution runs the risk of undermining other institutions. For all its defects, after nearly a decade Pakistan has a parliament that is genuinely elected and includes the representatives of every major party. It is there that the judges’ issue must be pressed, for the sake of the judges, parliament, the people — and democracy itself. (Dawn)

Nazir Naji


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