The Muslim League’s attempts to quit the government as a protest against the People’s Party’s refusal to reinstate the judges sacked by President Musharraf last year have been rejected by Pakistan’s PM.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won the parliamentary elections in February. It became the strongest party in parliament thanks to a sympathy vote after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and a clear protest vote against Musharraf. Musharraf’s party scored very poorly, whilst Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League did surprisingly well. Voters were convinced by Sharif’s clear anti-Musharraf stance and his demand that the judges dismissed during last year’s emergency situation be reinstated.
The weeks between the election and the formation of the government were a time of euphoria. The PPP and Nawaz Sharif formed a grand coalition and agreed to reinstate the judges within 30 days. After years of military dictatorship, Pakistan seemed to be on the threshold of a new democratic beginning.
But the anticlimax came fast. Gradually, the PPP took on the role of hinderer; raising all sorts of objections to the reinstatement of the judges. First, they wanted the judges’ rights to be restricted. Then they wanted the new judges appointed by Musharraf to stay in office. Then they floated the idea that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry should be coaxed into early retirement.
Despite his rhetoric, PPP head Asif Zardari doesn’t seem to value an independent judiciary that much -- after all, an independent judiciary could end up working against him and his government. Moreover, the PPP seems ready to go to any cost so as not to annoy Musharraf and his American allies.
It’s the old political way: Negotiations taking place away from the public eye, preferably abroad, in Dubai or London for instance… If only half of the conspiracy theories are to be believed, President Musharraf seems to have had a hand in the whole matter from behind the scenes. After two deadlines had expired, Nawaz Sharif lost his patience -- understandably. As opposed to the PPP, he has not forgotten his election promise.
But the PPP leadership is mistaken, if it believes that it can run politics in the same way as in the 1990s -- with meetings taking place in backrooms, secret deals being done with military, and party leaders fattening their bank accounts. These opportunistic intrigues have earned Pakistan’s democratic parties a miserable reputation, and have always afforded the military the opportunity to mount a coup.
But Pakistan has changed in recent years. Nobody wants the army now. Dozens of private television channels have cropped up and are currently showing up the PPP’s reluctance to reinstate the judges and underline their commitment to an independent judiciary, and embarrassing it with bothersome questions. Can this democratic government simply gag the media (just as Musharraf did last year) and ban them from reporting? Can it crack down on protests by lawyers and judges, which are likely to erupt by the weekend at the latest, just as Musharraf did last year? Probably not. There are by-elections coming up in June. This is when the PPP will pay the price for their dithering. While Nawaz Sharif’s perseverance will be rewarded.
The role of the West in this issue is deplorable. The United States in particular are supporting President Musharraf because they trust his ability the most to combat terrorism, despite all the bad experiences. Washington, London and Berlin would do well to talk more about human rights and democracy in Pakistan.
In order to put up an effective fight against terrorism, Pakistan absolutely needs democratic institutions such as a parliament and courts. Most Pakistanis share this view and will fight for democracy, with or without the Pakistan People’s Party.