The promised reinstatement of Pakistan‘s chief justice defused a protest movement threatening the U.S.-allied government, but it could still spell trouble for the country’s struggling president.
The army is said to have directedto defuse the developing showdown with opposition leader and lawyers leading a column of protesters toward the capital Sunday night.
But by yielding to demands to restore judges fired by former military ruler and U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf, Zardari may have strengthened democracy in the nuclear-armed nation as it faces daunting security and economic challenges.
“Never before in Pakistan’s political history have you had people standing up for the rule of law, for the constitution,” said Nasim Zehra, a political and defense analyst. “Civil society has won out.”
Musharraf ousted security agencies, and even questioned the legality of the ex-general’s rule.Mohammed Chaudhry in 2007 after he blocked a privatization deal, investigated the fate of hundreds of people allegedly held incognito by
But the move backfired as lawyers, rights activists, liberal media pundits — as well as the general’s political opponents — mounted a dogged campaign for an independent judiciary that turned the dour, mustachioed judge into an unlikely democratic icon.
The very same constellation has now humbled Zardari.
The slaying of former premier Benazir Bhutto catapulted her Pakistan People’s Party into power last year. Zardari, who took over his wife’s party and became president, forged a coalition with Sharif. The alliance collapsed as the two wrangled for power and Zardari reneged on a pledge to restore Chaudhry.
Sharif joined the opposition, but last month theruled that he and his brother Shahbaz were inelegible for elected office. Zardari then dismissed the government Shahbaz led in Punjab, the most powerful Pakistani province.
Nawaz Sharif — who defied house arrest to participate in Sunday’s demonstration — accused Zardari of a power grab and urged his supporters to join lawyers and other activists planning to march on the capital, re-energizing the movement.
Zardari’s tough line also opened rifts in his party, which could weaken his grip and force him to pass on to Parliament some of the sweeping presidential powers accumulated by Musharraf, analysts said. He has pledged to give up the right to dissolve the assemblies and fire the government — but taken no concrete steps to do it.
“Zardari has come out badly bruised,” said, a Pakistani commentator. “He has managed to survive, but his power has certainly been curtailed.”
Sharif, in contrast, has emerged triumphant.