Life after the Long March


Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has been restored and that is a most welcome development for all the right reasons in the world. Now the Zardari government should have space to move forward and address other pressing issues. And since the opposition has accepted the government’s decision as befitting, we could go back to a situation of more political harmony, an absolute necessity at a time of grave crises.

The announcement came from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the PMLN has taken no time to announce an end to the Long March and has asserted that it will now go to the restored Supreme Court to back up the government appeal for a review of the verdict of disqualification against the Sharif brothers. It is a measure of the confidence reposed by the PMLN in Prime Minister Gilani that the party is now ready to face the Court it had so far refused to recognise. A review petition has to go to the very bench that has delivered the adverse judgement.

These are signs that the nation should look at with satisfaction. Reconciliation has finally taken place and hawks on each side have had the measure of each other. No one was in favour of this confrontation and public opinion was moving to the middle, accusing both the mainstream parties of regressing to the vendettas of the 1990s. The PPP has to be praised for crossing the Rubicon of restoration; the PMLN has to be praised for standing firm on its declared intent that it did not want to topple the government but desired only to get the judiciary restored.

Democracy and its “politics” have won the day. The deadlock has been broken through a political decision to accommodate each other. The “purists” who still fear backsliding and hidden agendas have been ignored by the celebration that has followed the decision to call off the Long March. Prime Minister Gilani has referred to the Charter of Democracy in his brief address, which means that he expects the PMLN to cooperate with him to bring about the judicial reforms pledged through an amendment in the Constitution.

The Long March elements that wanted a “revolution” to come out of the agitation have been disappointed. Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the Jama’at-e Islami has complained that once again the two mainstream parties have “made a deal” without consulting him over how to respond to Mr Gilani’s announcement. He said that his party had fought manfully for the cause in Lahore and had suffered injuries while facing up to the police near the GPO, but was left in the dark about the final decision to call off the agitation. He is of the view that the return of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to a court bristling with PCO judges is not a fair deal.

The lawyers are overjoyed and deserve their moment in the sun because of the way they have steadily carried the standard of their principled cause for over two years. Organised in over 106 districts in the country with elected bars that can raise funds and organise protest marches, they are a civil society instrument with more grassroots discipline than the political parties. They have now to sit down and decide how they will undo any possible negative consequences from their empowerment vis-à-vis the courts in which they appear.

Meanwhile, we have to face the question of “what next”. That means letting go of the rhetoric that the restoration of the judges in the higher judiciary will lead to justice in the country. The focus now should be on structural change in the entire judiciary, reaching down to the district level. The magistracy has to be merit-based, better remunerated, and defended against all sorts of pressures. This is particularly important because the former PMLQ government had failed to complete this reform despite the considerable financial assistance provided it by the Asian Development Bank. That is the only way “justice” will be “restored”.

Life after the Long March will hopefully see restoration of the economy that was severely damaged by the political instability radiating from the campaign. Once the result of the review petition has brought about a further thawing of the situation, it will be time to take a serious look at the problem of terrorism and the battle against it that we are not winning. (Daily Times, Editorial)


Expectations after justice

By Asha’ar Rehman
Tuesday, 17 Mar, 2009 (Dawn)

The large crowd that threw its weight behind Mian Nawaz Sharif must definitely have played a part in the decision to restore Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Period.

A housewife in Lahore is waiting for inflation to dip sharply and the law and order situation to improve drastically before she goes on her next shopping spree. Advocate Asma Jahangir reminds Asif Ali Zardari that his and his party’s election last year was not an end in itself but that the PPP was supposed to actually bring in democracy after it came to power.

A similar task now challenges the chief justice — he must now work to bring in justice, at least the rule of law. But, of course, post-celebration, the people need to be chastened against coming up with unreasonable demands for the just-freed judiciary.

It is doubtful that the cautious words spoken by Athar Minallah are going to be good enough to hold back a people whose expectations have been raised so high. But surely, while Mian Shahbaz Sharif also warns the crowd to not expect streams of milk and honey to flow in this land, the more principled amongst us would be inclined to believe that a certain level of lawfulness will be maintained. Now that the judiciary is free, it is not too much to expect that Punjab will be getting rid of its police encounters.