Leading article: A fresh start, and cautious hopes for a nation's future

Share
Related Topics

In the hours and days after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, the prospects for Pakistan looked as bleak as for many a year. Just three months later, the darkest of the clouds seems to be lifting. It would be too optimistic to hazard that, perhaps, Ms Bhutto's death had not been in vain. But there are, for the first time, a few rays of light on the horizon.

Yesterday saw three developments that many would have thought inconceivable. The country's newly elected parliament approved Yousaf Raza Gilani as the next Prime Minister. The former parliamentary speaker was the candidate of the late Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party that had emerged as the largest party from last month's postponed elections. Mr Gilani commands wide respect, both within his party and beyond, not least because he repeatedly refused to abandon the People's Party, despite a succession of inducements from Pervez Musharraf to deal with him instead.

The second development was Mr Gilani's pledge, in his acceptance speech, to order the release of all judges detained under President Musharraf's emergency rule. Given that it was a revolt by certain outspoken judges that precipitated the emergency in the first place, this promise constituted a direct challenge to Mr Musharraf. In making his position so clear, Mr Gilani set down a marker for his government, establishing where he saw the dividing line between presidential and parliamentary power.

The third development was, if anything, the most remarkable. Within hours of Mr Gilani's speech, the former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, was released from prison. He had been held since November, when the President apparently feared that the Supreme Court would rule his re-election to the presidency unconstitutional. Mr Chaudhry's freedom not only signalled that, as Prime Minister, Mr Gilani would be able to exert real power, it also suggested that President Musharraf had meant what he said recently, when he expressed his readiness to work with the elected government.

At best, all this presages a new climate of hope for Pakistan. The country now has a parliament that was elected reasonably freely and fairly. It has a prime minister who has a clear sense of what he wants to do. As he said yesterday: "My past experience in parliament has shown me that if you want this country to work, the parliament must be supreme, the constitution must be sacred, and the rule of law enforced." It is on the way to having a coalition government with a common sense of purpose, at least in terms of its differences with the President. And it has a president whose political weakness – and perhaps his patriotic concern as well – inclines him to accept a constitutional settlement in which the (civilian) head of state exerts less day-to-day power.

Any new settlement, of course, will be fragile. The coalition promises to be as solid as any coalition in Pakistan could be, but this does not mean that it will easily survive early disagreements. While Mr Gilani stressed yesterday that he intended to serve a full term, some believe that the PPP leader (and Ms Bhutto's widower), Asif Ali Zardari, will bid for the post, if and when he wins a parliamentary seat. And Pakistan's military is an unknown quantity. The top brass remained quiescent when Mr Musharraf exchanged his uniform for a suit on being re-elected president. It is not at all clear that this detachment would last in the event of a major terrorist assault or serious unrest in the tribal regions.

It would be a brave prophet who foresaw an untroubled future for Pakistan as from today. But stability suddenly looks a far more plausible proposition than it did at the beginning of this year.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories