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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Deferral Till Death

Last August, I wrote:

About deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry: it is strange how so many powerful Pakistanis fear one good judge.  It is a testament to how much political and financial power are contingent upon a state of lawlessness and graft.  It is also strange that the rule of law movement is being opposed so vigorously when Baitullah Mehsud has accelerated his plans to establish his own judicial system across the tribal areas.  In a sense, Pakistanis face a choice between Iftikhar Chaudhry and Baitullah Mehsud.  Eliminating the former is a vote for the latter.

Today, President Asif Zardari is on the verge of making peace with Mehsud’s [ex?-]associate Maulana Fazlullah.  Without trying, Zardari has given up on establishing an effective civil judicial system in the greater Swat area.

At the same time, Zardari has declared war on a movement focused on establishing the rule of civil law, led by deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The formula of [Judicial System - Leading Rule of Law Movement Symbol = No Competition for Medieval Militants] has essentially been realized.

The Peoples Party has used a strategy of deferral till death (or death by deferral) for ‘contentious’ issues, such as restoration of the restored judges.

But look at the costs.  Law Minister Farooq Naik has been sitting on a “judicial reform” plan for around half a year.  Reforms that would produce speedy, effective civil justice — such as establishing night courts — are being delayed so they can be packaged with a boat load of other goodies (such as lowering the judges’ retirement age from 65 to 62 to expedite CJ Iftikhar’s retirement to December 2010).

These goodies will be packaged with another set of goodies for other political parties (Pakhtunkhwa for the ANP; provincial autonomy for the ANP & MQM) to create a mega-constitutional package.  The idea is that other political parties, save for the PML-N, will be satisfied enough as to go forward with neutering the courts (by removing the chief justice’s suo moto power) and not ask for a reduction in presidential powers.

[Regarding the presidential powers, note that on the very day Zardari was sworn in as president, Jehangir Badr began equivocating on the issue of nominalizing the presidency.  Neither the ANP nor the MQM have proposed a reduction in presidential powers.  Also, keep in mind that Washington does not trust Gilani.  He is seen as not being able to keep a secret from the ISI.]

The cost of Zardari’s power grab and war against Iftikhar is clear.  The ultimate victims of Zardari’s strategy of deferral till death are the Pakistani state system and the people it should be serving.

Update: 2/28 (12:25PM EST) — Babar Sattar, one of my favorite Pakistani columnists, writes:

“Our present system of governance is simply not sustainable and will need to be changed. But if the lawyers’ movement for reform fails, the only type of change that could follow would be the Taliban-style presently being endured by Swat.”

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Musharraf Ally Attacked at Lawyers Rally: Work of Provocateurs or an (Un)civil Society?

Sher Afgan Niazi, a minister in the previous government and member of the Musharraf-allied Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), was attacked at a lawyers movement rally this evening in Lahore. After being assaulted, the tires of the ambulance sent to take him away were punctured and its keys were stolen.

Though the lawyers movement has always been a bit rowdy, they have been the victims of state violence. The impression given by this event is that they have now become perpetrators of violence.

Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), desperately tried to stop the beating of Niazi. He made his way through the mob to reach Niazi and even climbed on to the ambulance to call on those in the rally to cease their attacks. His call was not heeded. After exhausting all efforts, Ahsan then announced his resignation as president of the SCBA.

In my opinion, there is a high likelihood that the violence was perpetrated by provocateurs not associated with the lawyers movement. Why?

One, video images of the rally show an unusually high presence of plain-clothed individuals, not the black suit lawyers that have become a symbol of the lawyers movement. One of the most aggressive attackers was a plain-clothed man who was hitting Afgan with a shoe. Aitzaz Ahsan has said that upwards of 60% of those in the crowd were not lawyers (he asked the lawyers to raise their hands), and said these individuals were the most violent.

Two, the incident occurs in the midst of a campaign to discredit Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the lawyers movement. [Note, for example, how Justice Iftikhar's meeting meeting with Asif Zardari was immediately spinned in the media to taint him as "political." But not too long after that, the PPP's Ahmed Mukhtar defended Musharraf as "cashable." If seems as if Justice Iftikhar's credibility can be tarnished by as little as a speeding ticket, while Musharraf can go off scot-free, as long as he remains 'useful'.]

At the very least, the violence today is extremely convenient for those who seek the movement’s downfall. Images of Niazi being pushed and pulled in various directions are fodder for sensationalists in Pakistan’s media. Television producers bring out their favorite red pen to mark a circle around Niazi as he’s inhumanely tossed like a volleyball. The violence is then said to be associated with the lawyers movement and even with democracy.

So, what needs to be done?

One, senior leaders of the lawyers movement — Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir Malik, and others — should meet with Sher Afgan tomorrow. They should apologize for the violence inflicted against him, yet make it clear that the lawyers movement’s rank and file was not behind the incident. They should directly engage, with concrete evidence, the question of whether outside provocateurs were behind the attack on Afgan.

Two, the lawyers movement should preserve its leadership, cohesiveness, and overall objectives. The likely goal of the violence, if it was done by provocateurs, was to get the lawyers movement to give up on its goal to restore the deposed judges, particularly Justice Iftikhar, deposed by Pervez Musharraf in November. The new government has 21 days left to bring the judges back, according to the Murree Accord.

Three, the lawyers movement should revamp its public presence. Lawyers should behave like lawyers. Their rallies need to be more tame. Though it is likely that authentic lawyers movement members were not behind tonight’s violence, the previous aggressiveness of the lawyers movement makes the idea that the lawyers are responsible for today’s violence, in the eyes of the general public, more believable. For example, the enthusiasm of Ahmed Ali Kurd is much appreciated, but his firebrand rhetoric is often excessive.

Finally, the movement needs to develop a strategy to push for broad-based judicial reform in Pakistan. Restoring the deposed judges is significant for Pakistan’s political development. It is in Pakistan’s national interest. But beyond the judges and the Supreme Court, there is the Pakistani majority that benefits little from the justice system. If wronged, the average Pakistani does not have any legal resort. And so, in order to maintain an independent bond with the people of Pakistan and continue much needed political reform, the lawyers movement should push for the rule of law and justice for the common man.

UPDATE – 3:40PM (New York): Take a look at the two photos above.  Both clearly show a plain-clothed young male on the right assaulting Sher Afgan.  Both lawyers in suits and plain-clothed people are also shielding Afgan.  They are clearly doing more work than the police (controlled by the pro-Musharraf interim provincial government), who Aitzaz Ahsan says were vastly short in number.

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The Second Battle of Islamabad

captisl10409290711pakistan_politics_isl104.jpgIslamabad, once Pakistan’s most serene and perhaps sedating city, is now at the center of its political storm. In the summer, its Red Mosque lived up to its name after days of gruesome violence left dozens killed and more injured in clashes between security forces and militants-students affiliated with Abdur Rashid Ghazi.

Today, the violence has shifted to the Election Commission, located (quite ironically) on Constitution Avenue. The Lawyer’s Movement gathered outside the Supreme Court to continue their protests against Pervez Musharraf and his bid for re-election. A few hours into the protests, they made their way toward the Election Commission headquarters, which has superseded the Supreme Court as the center of political contention.

The EC HQ was off-limits to them. Islamabad has been under a high state of alert, but the locus of the security presence was around the EC HQ. As lawyers (and media following them) made their way toward the cordoned off building, they were met with severe violence at the hands of state security apparatus.

The violence toward the media has been complemented with a television blackout in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area. This violence occurred while Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz remained inside the Election Commission headquarters (trapped for a bit) along with Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, Chaudhry Shujaat, Farooq Leghari, Mushahid Hussain, and Arbab Ghulam Rahim. Farooq Sattar, a senior Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader wasn’t so lucky as he was outside of the gates of the EC HQ, and was beaten up by a group of lawyers. This is a dangerous development, perhaps opening the gates for MQM-led violence against lawyers and the opposition (especially the Jamaat-e Islami) in Karachi. Rather than controlling his political opposition, Pervez Musharraf has perhaps catalyzed a broadening of political violence into Pakistan’s largest city.  Moreover, he’s relinquished the slight increase in credibility he received yesterday after the Supreme Court’s decision in his favor.

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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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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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