Victory for Civil Law in Pakistan a First Step

Here’s an excerpt from my latest external piece, published at World Politics Review:

A movement led by black-coated lawyers achieved a defining victory for the rule of civil law in Pakistan on Monday with the restoration of illegally deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. This highly popular movement provides an opportunity to strengthen the Pakistani state, improve the judicial system’s responsiveness, and resist creeping Talibanization.

You can read the remainder of the article here.

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Post-Long March Analysis (Public/Updated)


PPP-PML(N) rivalry continues. Bitterness remains high. Trust between the two parties has almost completely eroded.

a. Nationally, there are many outstanding issues between the two major parties. The most important of these is the electoral disqualification of the Sharif brothers.

b. More importantly, the battle for Punjab—Pakistan’s largest province—still goes on. There are major unresolved issues between the PPP and PML-N concerning Punjab. These include: future of controversial Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer; and the question of which party will form the next provincial coalition government.  The PPP seeks to create a governing coalition in Punjab with the PML-Q, a troubled party once allied with former President Pervez Musharraf.

c. There have already been actions made by both parties that indicate growing belligerence:

1. On Tuesday, the federal government unilaterally appointed a new chief election in violation of a PPP-PML(N) pact Gilani committed to follow.

—      According to the Charter of Democracy (COD)—signed by Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto in 2006—the prime minister must consult with the opposition leader (which would be the PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar) in picking CEC nominees. Also on Tuesday, Gilani pledged to work with the PML-N to implement the COD. The dissonance between actions and words will further antagonize the PML-N.

—       The utility of the COD is ignored in Western policymaking communities. The agreement provides a set roadmap for the PPP and PML-N to transition toward stable, democratic rule. It addresses a range of issues, including: civil-military relations, provincial autonomy, governance reform, center-periphery relations, accountability and anti-corruption, and government-opposition relations. If implemented, the COD will reduce the need for third party intervention and increase political stability. However, elements of the pact do pose a challenge to the army’s corporate autonomy.

2. Senior PML-N officials, including Nawaz Sharif and Khawaja Asif, continue to make aggressive statements against Zardari. Sharif spoke of undoing “this decayed, outdated system.” However, they remain positive about Gilani.

Gilani plays important role and will be tested again.

a. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani remains an intermediary between former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani remained in contact with the Sharifs during the Long March.

b. Gilani deftly survived the Long March without earning the ire of Sharif or Zardari.

c. However, if the Sharif-Zardari conflict reheats, Gilani might eventually be forced to choose sides or risk being caught in the crossfire.

d. This puts undue pressure on Gilani—seen as lacking intelligence and gumption—to maintain systemic balance. But Gilani is not and will not be without guidance.


a. Zardari is bitten and worn. He wants to regain strength. During the weekend, he refused to budge; he didn’t want to negotiate from a position of weakness. But he, essentially, continued to weaken as the crisis lingered on. The lesson has not dawned on him. He will not go down without a fight. Zardari has demonstrated a lack of ability to engage in political competition without seriously endangering political stability.

b. Predictions of Zardari’s demise are too early.  Many prefer a weakened/neutralized Zardari.

c. PPP needs a fall guy. Taseer could go as soon as governor’s rule is lifted. Rehman Malik is unlikely to go. Plays key role as civilian ‘balancer’ to the ISI for Zardari and others.


a. PML-N has gained morally from this. But tangible political gains were limited. Position remains precarious.

b. Nawaz’s breaking of the police cordon—watched by many on television—is what inspired many Lahoris to fill in the crowd. It kept growing, even on the way toward Gujranwala/Islamabad. Just another example of how new media/television was essential to the march’s success.

c. The Sharif brothers work very well as a team.

d. After failure to achieve political gains during the Long March, the party has adopted an aggressiveness signaling a return to the dangerous zero sum game. Inclination toward compromise remains though.


a. Kayani is now invested in the political process more than ever. No possibility for a smooth retreat, even if there is a will.


a. The lawyers movement was a national movement. It was not just restricted to Punjab. The foot soldiers were the lawyers from bar associations in every major city, including Peshawar and Quetta. Consider the leadership of the movement: Ali Ahmed Kurd (Baloch); Aitzaz Ahsan (Punjabi); Munir Malik (Urdu-speaking, I think); Abdul Latif Afridi (Pashtun); Athar Minallah (Pashtun); Iftikhar Chaudhry (Balochistani).

b. In fact, I would contend that the lawyers movement is one of the most diverse social movements in the country’s history. It, and more broadly, the push for the rule of law, can serve as an integrative force for Pakistan. Equal justice under the law can bring together Baloch and Punjabi, Urdu-speaking and Sindhi, Pashtun and Hindko-speaking.

c. Additionally, the movement brought together persons and groups from a broad ideological spectrum. Uber-liberals Asma Jehangir and Iqbal Haider, and Islamists Liaquat Baloch, and Munawar Hassan were all on the same side. Islamists were singing along with Iqbal Bano’s rendition of Faiz’s anti-establishment poem, Hum Dekhenge.

d. Pakistan’s judicial crisis is essentially over. A handful of issues have not been resolved, but the lawyers movement seems to have backed away from its maximalist positions.


a. Those that described the movement as Punjab-only were the political losers: ANP, JUI-F, MQM, and PPP. The ANP and PPP had, in fact, supported the movement prior to fall 2007/winter 2008.


a. The Islamists are not coming. The center-right, not the hard right, has been bolstered.

b. The rule of law can serve as an integrative force in Pakistan. Pakistan’s smaller, ethnic nationalist parties such as the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) and the Sindh Awami Tehreek viewed the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry very favorably.

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Protected: Long March Analysis

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Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will be restored — without conditions — by an executive order, according to Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N).

The quiet, patient man is on his third life, having been deposed twice previously by former President Pervez Musharraf.  Let’s hope he serves his term completely, without obstruction, and for the public good.

Kudos to the lawyers movement — one of Pakistan’s most organized, disciplined, and strategically-keen social movements.  Kudos to the political parties, third party groups, and street and Internet activists who stuck by their side.

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What Failed State?

Pakistan’s state machinery is working fine. 

Islamabad has implemented one of the most severe blockages of public movement in the country’s history.  [Update: It didn’t work too well in Lahore.]  Remember, this is a country of 165 million.

Major national highways and city roads are off limits.  Shipping containers have been laid out on the roads by the Zardari-dominated Gilani government to prevent a sizable assembly of Long March protesters.  [Good luck to exporters with shipping deadlines to meet!]

The Pakistan Army is deployed in Islamabad in full force to prevent public assembly.  [It's unclear as to whether they are just following orders to let Zardari self-destruct completely or whether Army Chief Kayani is in on the draconian measures against Pakistan's citizenry.]

The provincial police services and national intelligence agencies – including, some lawyers movement activists claim, plainclothes ISI officers — have detained dozens of major civil society and political leaders.  They have also arrested hundreds of lawyers and party activists.   

The most watched news channel is blocked in much of the country.  Even dorm residents at Islamabad’s Quaid-e Azam University were booted out of their housing facilities — many or most with no place to go.  SMS service has been blocked in Islamabad.  This could extend to the rest of the country. 

The Zardari-dominated government (I write Zardari-dominated because the government is technically that of Gilani, the dodo premier who wears no clothes) has demonstrated very well that it is able to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat a threat to its creeping hegemony and use a wide range of elements of the state apparatus to execute it.

Granted, it is facing a non-violent opposition.  It is easy to suppress the peaceful and unarmed.  Fighting cannibalistic terrorists is another matter.  Rehman Malik, now de-facto interior minister, ran away to Zardari House in Islamabad after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, despite being in charge of her security.

Proclamations of the demise of the Pakistani state are always premature as long as the state is able to function at will.  The will, tragically, is generally demonstrated for the sake of self-preservation or aggrandizement.

The state performs well when it wants to, when the major elements of the state work in concert with one another.  As with today, it is for the wrong reasons. 

But in losing legitimacy and earning the hatred of the people, authoritarians win the battle and lose the war.  It is all downhill for Zardari from here.  In his fake psychiatric report, Zardari claimed to be suffering from amnesia.  Apparently he forgot what happened to Musharraf in 2007-8.

Update: 4:45AM (New York) – Zardari just lost the battle of Lahore and the entire war.  I think the game will be over soon.  Bilawal — take out the sleeping bag.  Papa’s coming for a visit.

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The Long Circular March

Benazir Bhutto said earlier today that she will go on with her “Long March” and that she has broken off talks with Pervez Musharraf. The Long March, originally to be from Lahore to Islamabad, will now be a campaign through Punjab with Kasur as its first stop.

Tariq Azeem, a Musharraf spokesperson, has said that Bhutto will not be permitted to rally as all public processions are currently illegal. Bhutto has positioned herself in a head on confrontation with Musharraf’s government.

But there is a strong likelihood that she is merely flexing her muscles. She has maintained talks with Musharraf while placing her hand as close to the fire — i.e. complete opposition to Musharraf — as much as possible without touching it.

We will see tomorrow if the Long March is merely a replay of Friday’s rally in Rawalpindi. Will Benazir just talk the talk or will she also walk the walk? Will she touch the fire? If she is prevented from rallying herself, will her party show its true street power in Lahore? It certainly didn’t in Pindi.

If it does, Pakistan might be put on the course for an ugly confrontation between the government and the PPP. I say PPP because the leaders of other major opposition parties are in detention or exile. She reportedly hasn’t consulted the other opposition parties on tomorrow’s rally. She’s pushed the PML-N out of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy’s leadership. This seem to be, effectively, the Benazir Bhutto show.

Indeed, Bhutto’s rerouting of the Long March into a tour of Punjab marks the beginning of a political battle for the province — Pakistan’s largest. This is PML territory. Tomorrow’s march, whether it goes on or not, is perhaps more a start to Bhutto political campaigning in Punjab than a full-fledged drive against Musharraf.

The PML-Q (Musharraf’s party), faced with the strong possibility of losing the premiership in the next elections, cannot afford to lose control of Punjab. Without it, they are nothing. But its top leaders — the Chaudhry cousins — lack public campaigning skills. Wasi Zafar, today on GEO’s Capital Talk program, asked why the media has been giving so much coverage to Benazir Bhutto and virtually none to tours of Pervez Ellahi (PML-Q)? A PPP senator, biases aside, answered correctly that the media covers what the public wants. And unfortunately for the PML-Q, the Chaudhries have no mass appeal.

They missed an opportunity earlier this year when they sent Punjab’s most popular politician, Nawaz Sharif, back to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. With Musharraf’s consent, they could have spent the year consolidating the PML and their control of Punjab. Instead, they’re going to continue to rely on Musharraf’s patronage and some belated efforts toward merging.

And as for Bhutto’s talks with Musharraf that she claims have stopped, they certainly can (and will likely) resume in accordance with precedent. Paul Reynolds of the BBC says:

“few diplomats doubt that Ms Bhutto will resume negotiations with Gen Musharraf if and when the moment comes.”

In any event, by this time tomorrow we’ll get a strong sense if Benazir has chosen to fully confront Musharraf and try to take a piece of Punjab or whether they will continue their dance of “two steps forward and two steps back.”

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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