There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Or so goes the phrase. This is the tide that has made Pakistan’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry the vehicle of the larger dissatisfaction of the people of Pakistan. The ongoing events in Pakistan have shown that the issues go far beyond the person of Justice Iftikhar and his treatment at the hands of the police. They relate to the future of democracy and the rule of law in Pakistan. The fig leaf that had covered General Pervez Musharraf’s military government since the time he seized power from an elected government in October 1999 is in tatters. At the time, the General had taken pains to disguise that fact by describing himself as Chief Executive and allowing a generous measure of democratic rights. But when he felt the need to extend his rule beyond the three years he had promised at the time of seizing power, he did not hesitate to take recourse to a controversial referendum in April 2002 to declare himself President.
There are many who feel that the genesis of the Chief Justice episode lies in Mr Musharraf’s need now to extend his rule further. This is where the Chief Justice could have been a hindrance, and hence the military precision with which he was removed. In the seventh year of his rule, it is clear that Mr Musharraf has not managed to create any significant political constituency. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s Pakistan Muslim League (Q) is strong on paper, but it is difficult to contemplate what its fate would be in the face of free and fair elections. The rump of the party still controlled by Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan People’s Party of Benazir Bhutto remain hostile to the General. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a collection of Islamist parties were supportive, but are now unable to buck the anger of their constituents against the General’s close ties with the United States.
Yet, President Musharraf cannot afford to get off the tiger he mounted in October 1999. For this reason he will do — and appears to be doing — everything to retain power. If there is a chance that the outgoing National Assembly will not endorse his re-election, he could well declare Emergency, and rule openly as the military dictator that he has always been.