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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Farooq Naek, Liar

Countless times today, GEO News has broadcast this brutal presentation of the hypocrisy of Zardari defense attorney, Law Minister, and Senate Chairman Farooq H. Naek. It probably contributed to Zardari’s decision to curb the channel’s broadcasts.

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Musharraf Ordered Firing on Iftikhar Chaudhry’s Motorcade

Sheikh Waqas Akram of the Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) revealed today on the floor of the Punjab Assembly that in 2007 former President Pervez Musharraf ordered the Punjab government to shoot at the motorcade of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in Lahore.

The firing was to be done in three separate locations on the deposed judge’s procession route, designed to spark fear among congregants and discourage their participation in rallies.

Akram states that the PML(Q)-run government in Punjab refused to follow the orders, which were relayed by a senior intelligence official.

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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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Live from New York, It’s Iftikhar Chaudhry

Ok, he’s not hosting Saturday Night Live, but Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will be accepting — in person  – an honorary membership of the New York City Bar Association on November 17th.  Chaudhry was given the honor in absentia in January, when he was under house arrest.

The event is free and open to the public.  It begins at 6PM and will take place at the New York City Bar Association’s headquarters at 42 West 44th Street.

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PPP-Led Government to Evict Iftikhar Chaudhry from Home

GEO News reports that the People’s Party-led coalition government has ordered the vacation of the Islamabad home of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Farooq Naik, the former defense attorney of Asif Zardari now law minister, has said that more judges will be reappointed to the Supreme Court under fresh oaths.  It is clear that Chaudhry will not be among those judges.

This appears to be the end of the road for Chaudhry and the lawyers’ movement.  But I would not count them out completely.  

If and when the political-security tsunami hits, they could be among the few not drowned in the deluge.  

Months ago, the lawyers’ movement began to reframe their cause in a broader context, explaining the integrality of the restoration of the judges to social and economic justice.  Unfortunately, that stalled.  The movement hit a brick wall — namely a bloc consisting of most of the country’s internal and external power brokers.  Its main political advocates were isolated and outnumbered.  

Now Chaudhry, Aitzaz Ahsan (who did not attend Zardari’s oath taking ceremony), and others have little choice but to graciously acknowledge their defeat short of accepting the legitimacy of Chaudhry’s non-restoration.   They need to move on to broader issues, most important of which is the challenge of establishing the rule of law and a uniform and effective judicial system across the country from Karachi to Khyber.  

Their chances of success are quite grim.  Frankly, neither the present government in Islamabad nor its major benefactors care; they fail to see or choose to ignore that in the absence of a working judicial system arise vigilantees like Baitullah Mehsud and Karachi’s lynch mobs.  

But, if the lawyers’ movement fails to speak out on behalf of the rule of law, who, besides the presently isolated PML-N and APDM, will?  Farooq “Johnny Cochran” Naik?  Afrasyiab “Sab Say Pahlay Pakhtunkhwa” Khattak?  Fazlur Landrover?  Or Altaf “Yea, I Got Your Mobile Phone” Hussain?  

In short, the lawyers’ movement should settle down, reconsolidate, and move on from a loss in just one of many battles in a war to bring the rule of law to Pakistan.

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PML-N Leaves Coalition, Joins Opposition; Proposes Own Presidential Candidate

PML-N Leader Nawaz Sharif has announced that his party will be leaving the governing coalition completely and will sit in the opposition.  He made this statement in a press conference that is occuring as I write.  The PML-N will also put forward the name of Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, a judge who retired when Pervez Musharraf took over and requested that he take an oath on a provisional constitution, for the presidential elections.

The PML-N seems to have had no other choice.  It made agreements with the PPP one day, only for that party’s leader, Asif Zardari, to state the next day that the pact had no value.

But Pakistan’s polity is heading for a left-right split and this is dangerous.  Pakistan’s parties will be split along the lines of pro-Zardari and anti-Zardari, pro-war on terror and anti-war on terror, pro-Iftikhar Chaudhry and anti-Iftikhar Chaudhry.  Sound familiar?  Zardari and his PPP have effectively taken the place of Musharraf and the PML-Q.  His presidency is unlikely to last long and his party could take major blows from his failed power grab.  After all, the party’s formal chairman is 19 years old.

The polarization of Pakistan’s polity is an affront to the mandate of the February 18th elections.  Pakistanis voted for change.  They made clear their desire for Pakistan’s two major parties to join together at the center.  They made clear that they wanted a new politics, not the games of the past.  Instead, they have received recycled, yet unrehabilitated characters from the past.

Zardari overcame his character deficit with magmamity and prudence in the months after his wife’s death.  Yet he has returned to his old self, which Pakistanis were never fond of.

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.

Finally, the PML-N’s control over Punjab is not in danger by it leaving the government at the center.  It’s one vote short of a majority in the Punjab Assembly and there are plenty of PML-Q defectors and independents willing to join its ranks.  But let’s see how the PML-N performs as in the opposition.  It does not appear that it will adopt a policy of mindless antagonism as it and the PPP did in the past.  But that depends a lot on the PPP’s behavior, and the events of recent months are not encouraging.

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Breaking News: Judicial activists enter Justice Iftikhar’s home

Judicial activists have broken the cordon around the home of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has been under house arrest for over five months. Chaudhry was expected to be released Tuesday night.

Senior leaders of the lawyers’ movement, including Aitzaz Ahsan, stood along with Chaudhry and members of his family on the balcony of his home. Ahsan spoke to the crowd on a megaphone for most of the time. Chaudhry then spoke briefly, thanking the activists for their efforts toward establishing the rule of law in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani said today his first act will be to order the release of the detained judges.

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Aitzaz Ahsan: Iftikhar Chaudhry is Pakistan’s Chief Justice

Senior People’s Party figure and lawyers’ movement leader Aitzaz Ahsan just completed a press conference. He said the restoration of the deposed judges, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, is the elections’ “unfinished business.” Chaudhry, said Ahsan, remains Pakistan’s Supreme Court chief justice. He vowed to hold a “long march” to Islamabad if the judges are not restored by March 9th.  The judges can be restored by an executive decree, said Ahsan.

Ahsan has made a concerted effort to paint the late Benazir Bhutto as equally supportive of the pre-November 3rd judiciary as he has been–despite the fact that she publicly asked him to decide between the PPP and Iftikhar Chaudhry. He did, however, state yesterday that the People’s Party could have fared better in the elections if it actively pursued the judiciary issue.
People’s Party Co-Chairman Asif Zardari has actively worked to bring Ahsan back into the PPP’s fold. It’s unclear as to whether his pursuit of the judicial cause–specifically the restoration of the deposed judges (Zardari only called for their release)–will occur parallel to, in clash with, or in harmony with his role in the People’s Party. Will Zardari call for the judges’ restoration too? He might be cornered into doing so as a result of the strong public calls from party member Aitzaz Ahsan and Nawaz Sharif of potential ruling coalition partner PML-N.

Finally, it should be noted that Ahsan dropped out of the elections to demonstrate his solidarity with the pro-judiciary cause. As a result, he has no parliamentary seat. Despite being part of the lead party in the future governing coalition, Ahsan will likely be active in the streets with his fellow lawyers. Will he have to make a choice against between the PPP and Iftikhar Chaudhry?

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Filling in the Blanks: Nat_____ Recon_________

Let’s Continue Our Conversation…in London
Shahbaz Sharif, president of the Muslim League-Nawaz, tells BBC Urdu that “If Musharraf becomes neutral and promises to hold the polls in a free and fair manner, talks can be held with him.” This is a major break with precedent. Previously the Sharif brothers have publicly ruled out any compromise with Musharraf.

It’s unclear whether Shahbaz’s statement has his brother’s endorsement, though this is highly likely. It could be that Shahbaz is playing good cop, while Nawaz plays bad cop. Additionally, Shahbaz is seen as more conciliatory than his older brother, which would provide Nawaz with some cover (i.e. creating the impression that his brother talked him down from the ledge). A less likely alternative is that Musharraf could be successfully playing one Sharif brother off of the other by offering Shahbaz, not Nawaz, a major position in the national unity government (perhaps prime minister).

Shahbaz has extended his stay in London, where he’ll meet with retired Brigadier Niaz Ahmed (they met in Islamabad over a week ago) and could meet with Pervez Musharraf, who has begun a four nation tour of Europe.

Musharraf will eventually make his way to London, but there are no meetings with government officials slated. Gordon Brown is currently in India, where he called for New Delhi’s addition to the UN Security Council. Musharraf could be avoiding Brown’s snub of Pakistan, but his trip is also designed to temper European opposition. Musharraf will also meet Niaz Ahmed. Prior to leaving Pakistan, Musharraf met with the emir of Abu Dhabi on Saturday. The emirate played host to a Bhutto-Musharraf meeting in July.

Zardari and Malik Qayyum Meet in Dubai
National reconciliation talks must, apparently, occur outside of Pakistan, and so Attorney General Malik Qayyum met with Asif Ali Zardari in Dubai on Saturday. Both left Pakistan in a curiously furtive fashion. The PPP has publicly remained open to dealing with Musharraf after the elections and strongly resist the idea of a national reconciliation government prior to the elections, as they’d delay the polls.

It’s a positive development if Musharraf is negotiating with both the Sharifs and Zardari in earnest. If he’s playing them off of each other, then Musharraf is playing with fire.

Opposition Tours the U.S.
Several opposition figures are on a tour of the United States. Sherry Rehman and Javaid Laghari, both of the People’s Party, will be speaking at the Brookings Institution tomorrow. Imran Khan will be on a multi-city tour, speaking at organizations such as Amnesty International and CSIS and in Pakistani community events, which seem to be fund raisers for his Tehreek-e Insaaf Party.

Fazlur Rahman: Saudi Challo
Maulana Fazlur Rahman was noticeably absent from the public since the news reporting serious threats against him. And he’s done what he seems to do often in challenging moments, go to Saudi Arabia.

Geo Back
Earlier last week, Talat Hussain returned to AAJ television to host his weeknightly public affairs program. In his first show back on air, Talat said he’s back with no strings attached. But it seems as if the show (Live with Talat) is now taped, not live (in accordance with the new media control rules). There is also little mention of the judiciary issue. Nonetheless, the show remains engaging and informative.

GEO News also returned to the air waves today sans their most popular political talk show hosts, Hamid Mir and Shahid Masood. Kashif Abbasi, another prominent television journalist, remains off of ARY One World.

Back to the Barracks
Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has recalled a number of active military officers from cushy positions within the civilian bureaucracy. This follows his earlier move barring senior officers from meeting with politicians.

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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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