In Pakistan, lawyers have started new protests calling for the reinstatement of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to the Supreme Court. They are supported by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Police reacted with dozens of arrests and are trying to prevent the protestors from travelling from all parts of the country to the capital, Islamabad, as part of a so-called "Long March".
Plainclothes policemen arrest protestors in Karachi on Thursday
The Pakistani authorities have slapped a ban on political rallies and all kinds of public gatherings across Sindh and Punjab provinces and have ordered preventive detentions. Ali Dayan Hasan from the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch strongly condemns the measures:
"These provisions in the legal framework in Pakistan are colonial era laws. These are laws that are frequently used by Pakistani governments, all Pakistani governments. They have not been used in the last one year. And therefore it is particularly disappointing that the Pakistani government, which is an elected civilian government, has chosen to use these laws!"
Lawyers' movement is popular
Tension has been mounting over the past year as the government, run by President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party or PPP, has failed to honour its commitment to restore the former Chief Justice and other judges deposed by military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007. Ijaz Shafi Gilani, head of pollster Gallup Pakistan, says most Pakistanis are with the lawyers.
"We have actually been tracking this issue for the last two years, since the lawyers’ movement started in March 2007", explains Gilani. "Ever since, a fairly large majority has been in support of the lawyers’ movement. Currently, between 60 and 70 per cent of the people say that they are in favour of restoration of the former Chief Justice." Gilani says even most PPP supporters want Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry back.
Nawaz Sharif joins protests
The Pakistan Muslim League or PML-N of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left the government last year because the judges were not reinstated. Nawaz Sharif has accused President Zardari of continuing to interfere in the judiciary, notably when Sharif himself and his brother were recently banned from holding political office by a court ruling. Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch calls for moderation on both sides:
"A political dispute in a democratic framework requires a negotiated settlement, which is what both Mian Nawaz Sharif and the government of the day must do if they are to be responsible players. Nawaz Sharif threatening civil disobedience and rebellion against the state and the interior advisor responding by saying he will be charged with sedition, because that’s what it amounts to, is a lot of rhetoric. But it is very counterproductive rhetoric!"
No support for military coup
Even without the current crisis, Pakistan has been extremely tense due to terrorist attacks across the country, an ongoing insurgency by the Taliban in the northwest and massive economic problems. There has been speculation about another military coup if the instability worsens. Gallup Pakistan conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,600 people in the first week of March and found that people were not satisfied with the performance of their leaders, says Ijaz Shafi Gilani.
"When we ask people ‘who do you think is responsible for the crisis?’, a large number says the politicians are responsible for the crisis. When we ask them ‘who do you think can rescue the country?’ -- actually less than twenty per cent say the military will be appropriate to rescue the country out of this crisis."
Which means that, at least until now, the Pakistani people feel that their politicians should sit together and solve their dispute about the judiciary.