The leader of the lawyers’ movement for restoration of judges Aitzaz Ahsan had once famously remarked that nothing about Pakistan was predictable, except, of course, its democracy-deficit past.
Barely a week after the August 18 exit of Pervez Musharraf, this country of 160 million is in a state of trepidation. The commonly posed questions: Are the elected representatives engaged in an unseemly power game about to repeat history? Will the PPP-PML split on the judges’ issue replicate Pakistan’s earlier aborted journeys on the highroad to genuine democracy?
As Nawaz Sharif fights Asif Zardari over giving back the dismissed judges their jobs, youth are denied employment, the poor a square meal and hundreds of innocent victims of terrorist violence their right to life. Inflation reins at 22 per cent; staple food items in short supply and dearer by 33 per cent. “In 2004-05, 25 per cent Pakistanis lived below the poverty line. I suspect the figure now is close to one-third of our population,” said Shahid Kardar, an economist and former Punjab Minister for Finance and Planning.
It’s hard to miss the irony — the sheer tragedy of official neglect — in the widely televised tale of a teenager who stole wheat-flour to help his ailing sister. “I’m not a thief. I was helpless,” pleaded the bony-faced boy after spending time in a police lockup.
These images make one wonder whether the ruling elite have the vision to govern the country where suicide bombings are frequent and the economy in a free fall? Even the Pakistani media with its unquestionable vibrancy have largely spent the past months chasing politicians.
But they are waking up finally to their core constituency—the suffering people largely denied a court of appeal. High-profile television anchor Hamid Mir interrupted his prime-time chat show the other night to take his audience to terror struck Wah. “Is this jehad or cold-blooded massacre of innocent Pakistanis,” he asked.
To be heard in the cacophonous debate on the judiciary’s restoration, the media have to incessantly cry murder — the way they did after the dismissal last year of Justice Itfikhar Chaudhry and his brother judges. “With Musharraf gone, the media’s sole responsibility is to make the rulers serve the people,” said an official of the Lahore Chambers of Commerce. He felt the judiciary’s restoration could be a good beginning towards building a fair society: “We cannot let down the Chief Justice who stood up to a dictator.”
Easier said than done, this, with Zardari seeking “forgiveness and help” from Sharif in “these difficult times” but offering no concrete assurance or time-frame for the judges’ return. The PPP co-chairman had earlier told another coalition partner, the JUI’s Fazlur Rahman that “forces” whose help he took to eject Musharraf from the presidency weren’t on board yet on the issue.
The allusion apparently was to the Army or the United States. Justice Chaudhry could have antagonised either or both by his activist role in cases relating to the so-called “missing persons” picked up by security agencies fighting terrorism in the NWFP and Balochistan.