x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Pakistan government bows to opposition pressure

A lawyers' movement wins its long sought goal with the reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. In Lahore a crackdown by the Pakistani government to prevent a national demonstration and detain the country's leading opposition figure, Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, collapsed on Sunday, and what had been a clash between the police and protesters transformed into a huge anti-government rally.

Almost a year after he was released from house arrest, Iftikhar Chaudhry is to be reinstated as Chief Justice of Pakistan. "President Asif Ali Zardari had blocked all calls from the opposition led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and a lawyers' movement to restore the judge," The Financial Times reported. "Mr Chaudhary was dismissed in 2007 by then-president Pervez Musharraf, but Mr Zardari regarded the judge as too politicised and feared he could pose a threat to his own presidency if restored. "The move followed protests by thousands of anti-government demonstrators led by Mr Sharif, who battled with police in Lahore on Sunday as troops were put on alert before a planned national demonstration in Islamabad on Monday." "This is far beyond my expectations," said Shahbaz Sharif, Mr Sharif's brother, who lost his job as chief minister in Punjab province last month when the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding public office, AFP said. The main spokesman for Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party, Hasan Iqbal, declared victory. "This is an historical moment in our country. The nation has won through a people's revolution. "This dream of an independent judiciary has come true," he said. The New York Times said: "A crackdown by the Pakistani government to prevent a national demonstration and detain the country's leading opposition figure collapsed on Sunday, and what had been a clash between the police and protesters transformed into a huge anti-government rally. "In what analysts here called an unprecedented reversal by security forces, phalanxes of riot policemen here in Lahore melted away rather than continue to confront protesters who had rallied around the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, when he defied a house arrest order early Sunday. "By early evening, the sight of exuberant anti-government crowds in Lahore - a mix of Mr Sharif's loyalists, supporters of smaller opposition parties and ordinary people with their young children - encouraged people in other cities in the Punjab Province to come out on the streets... "Mr Sharif headed toward Islamabad in a long convoy of cars, with supporters lining up to greet him along the 200 mile route, said Ahsan Iqbal, the information secretary for Mr Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N. He added that party workers armed with cranes were removing shipping containers placed as roadblocks by the police at junctions along the route to the capital. "Mr Sharif, speaking to Geo television by phone from his car, said, 'This is a prelude to a revolution.' Mr Sharif began the day under house arrest at his home outside Lahore, hemmed in by barbed wire and security roadblocks. But he denounced the crackdown as illegal and said he would move to address an opposition demonstration at the city center and continue with a national opposition march on the capital planned for Monday. He left his house in a convoy of cars that broke through a ring of police barriers." In a commentary for The News International, Farrukh Saleem wrote: "The underlying clash behind Pakistan's long march is in fact a collision between a segment of population that wants to establish 'rule of law' and forces that are bent upon remaining above the law. Introducing reforms into any society means potential gainers and potential losers. If Pakistan becomes a 'rule of law' state then 170 million Pakistanis stand to gain while a few thousand Pakistanis, who have benefited from keeping Pakistan away from the 'rule of law,' stand to lose. The established rule of thumb is that as long as potential losers of a reform package are also the principal decision-makers reform doesn't stand a chance." In The Observer, Jason Burke noted that perceptions are skewed in a way that makes it difficult for the West to understand the real Pakistan which from the outside has so often looked like it is on the brink of becoming a failed state. "We see the country as plunged in a struggle between the frighteningly foreign and the familiar, between fanaticism and western democracy, values, our vision of the world and how it should be ordered. Yet while we are fretting about Pakistan's imminent disintegration, we are blind to the really important change. "Recent years have seen the consolidation of a new Pakistani identity between these two extremes. It is nationalist, conservative in religious and social terms and much more aggressive in asserting what are seen, rightly or wrongly, as local 'Pakistani' interests. It is a mix of patriotic chauvinism and moderate Islamism that is currently heavily informed by a distorted view of the world sadly all too familiar across the entire Muslim world. This means that for many Pakistanis, the west is rapacious and hostile. Admiration for the British and desire for holidays in London have been replaced by a view of the UK as 'America's poodle' and dreams of Dubai or Malaysia. The 9/11 attacks are seen, even by senior army officers, as a put-up job by Mossad, the CIA or both. The Indians, the old enemy, are seen as running riot in Afghanistan where the Taliban are 'freedom fighters'. AQ Khan, the nuclear scientist seen as a bomb-selling criminal by the West, is a hero. Democracy is seen as the best system, but only if democracy results in governments that take decisions that reflect the sentiments of most Pakistanis, not just those of the Anglophone, westernised elite among whom western policy-makers, politicians and journalists tend to chose their interlocutors. "This view of the world is most common among the new, urban middle classes in Pakistan, much larger after a decade of fast and uneven economic growth. It is this class that provides the bulk of the country's military officers and bureaucrats. This in part explains the Pakistani security establishment's dogged support for elements within the Taliban. The infamous ISI spy agency is largely staffed by soldiers and the army is a reflection of society. For the ISI, as for many Pakistanis, supporting certain insurgent factions in Afghanistan is seen as the rational choice. If this trend continues, it poses us problems rather different from those posed by a failed state. Instead, you have a nuclear armed nation with a large population that is increasingly vocal and which sees the world very differently from us."

"The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, has given his approval for talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan and has allowed his representatives to attend Saudi-sponsored peace negotiations," The Sunday Times reported. " 'Mullah Omar has given the green light to talks,' said one of the mediators, Abdullah Anas, a former friend of Osama Bin Laden who used to fight in Afghanistan but now lives in London. "One of those negotiating for the Afghan government confirmed: 'It's extremely sensitive but we have been in contact both with Mullah Omar's direct representatives and commanders from the front line.' "The breakthrough emerged after President Barack Obama admitted that US-led forces are not winning the war in Afghanistan and called for negotiations with 'moderate Taliban'." Meanwhile, Voice of America reported: "A string of bomb blasts in eastern and southern Afghanistan Sunday killed 14 people, including four US and two British soldiers, while coalition and Afghan forces killed five suspected militants."