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Pak civil society brings autocracy to its knees

india Updated: Mar 17, 2009 00:54 IST
Pak civil society brings autocracy to its knees

Call it revolution, civil disobedience or plain and simple mass upsurge. Developments in Pakistan have established the force of a civil society that can bring autocracy to its knees. That is, if the Army plays fair and the Americans acquiesce.

There is no altruistic dimension to Asif Zardari’s decision to restore the deposed judiciary and submit for judicial review the Sharif brothers’ disqualification from holding public office.

He wilted under pressure from party colleagues and people who stormed the streets on Nawaz Sharif’s call for a rebellion.

Sapped of their strength in the war against the Taliban, the civil-military establishment’s natural response was to avert a siege of Islamabad.

For Zardari, however, the truce brokered in tandem with the US, whose interventions weren’t the least covert, entails not just a loss of face or authority. The blow is to the Bhutto dynasty, especially Bilawal, the heir apparent in whose name Zardari first usurped the PPP’s co-chair and then the Presidency.

Sharif rode on sentiments built by the lawyers’ struggle backed by the media for the judge’s restoration, argued Geo TV’s Hamid Mir. He agreed nevertheless that the gritty PML-N leader stole everybody’s thunder with his defiance of the President and his minions like Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.

Zardari never caught the essence of the Benazir quote he turned into a veritable PPP catch-slogan after her assassination: “Democracy is the best revenge.” He used it to garner votes and wrest power.

The promises he made — and broke like fortune cookies — enabled Sharif to translate his ‘martyred’ PPP rival’s thought into a mass upheaval against her discredited husband.

Never before has the post-1971 Pakistan witnessed such robust popular intervention between two elections. But will Sharif be lucky the second time? His first confrontation with the establishment that sired him in the 1980s was in the 1990s when he refused to take “dictation” from President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

In his newfound role of a rebel — a la the original Benazir — Sharif did not make up with GIK even after the Apex Court restored his government in a judgement unprecedented in the annals of Pakistan. The standoff led to the 1993 polls at the Army’s behest. Those were different days. The Army needs today a political prong to its armed offensive against terrorism.

Only a paradigm change in its thinking can make it bet on Sharif, who fought four successive army chiefs: Asif Nawaz Janjua, Jehangir Karamat, Abdul Waheed Kakar and Pervez Musharraf.