Big win for Pakistan protesters
The government agreed Monday to restore deposed judges. Activists want further reforms.
They came with flags, candies, and chants of "Rule of law!" Thousands of jubilant Pakistanis made a pilgrimage to the residence of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry early Monday, saying that Pakistan had proved itself worthy of the name of democracy.Skip to next paragraph
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A popular movement had forced the government to promise to reinstate Mr. Chaudhry – acceding to a key curb on its power. In the past such action has only happened through military coups.
"We've been waiting for this some 60 years," says Ansa Nadeen, who flew from Karachi to join the protests. "We kept quiet for too long."
While the threat of protests has dissipated and euphoria taken hold, contentious political battles still lie ahead. Activists and opposition members are pressing for further reforms, such as devolving power from the president, and hope that popular input, putting principles over party leaders, and military calm will bolster future decisionmaking.
"This is an extremely important day, but the real task has now started: how to maintain the victory of the people," says Khalid Rahman, head of the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad. "If this is the only decision that has taken place and later no other decision is made, I think there will be a lot of problems." The surging popularity of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif gives the ruling Pakistan People's Party an incentive to continue working with the opposition and agreeing to reforms, Mr. Rahman continues. If the PPP drags its feet, that could give Mr. Sharif an avenue to power.
For the time being, there appears to be little appetite for upsetting the fragile political order by calling early elections.
Still, the PPP appears to be keeping its unpopular leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, out of the limelight. It was Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani who announced the decision Monday morning to restore the remaining handful of 60 judges sacked in 2007 under then-president and Army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Mr. Gilani also has assured the opposition that remaining questions will be considered in light of the Charter of Democracy, a deal struck in 2006 between Sharif and Mr. Zardari's slain wife, Benazir Bhutto.
The opposition responded positively, indicating that the prime minister – as opposed to Zardari – is someone they trust. "We believe in the prime minister," says Siddique ul-Farooque, spokesman for Sharif's PML-N party. He says his party anticipates that Gilani will call all party leaders together for meetings shortly to come up with a legislative package of reforms.
Thorny issues lie ahead
One of the earliest decisions to tackle: Who will rule the Punjab?
The province is a stronghold for Sharif, whose brother had been chief minister there before a controversial court ruling last month disqualified both brothers from public office. The government said over the weekend it will file a petition for the case to be reconsidered. If overturned, some arrangement would still be needed to return Sharif's brother to power.
One of the concerns surrounding Sharif is whether his calls for a restored judiciary were simply a means to resolve the Punjab controversy. He might lose some popular support if he gets his wishes in Punjab and stops fighting for a broader agenda, says Rahman.