Leading article: A stand-off that threatens to destabilise not only Pakistan

President Zardari must honour his promise to reinstate the judges

Share
Related Topics

Chaotic scenes in Lahore yesterday seemed to stand for the plight of all Pakistan. Riot police fired tear-gas; demonstrators waved banners and threw stones. And the leader of the country's opposition Muslim League, Nawaz Sharif, defied what he said was a house arrest order to join the "long march" of protest to Islamabad. The country is now set for the long-awaited, and potentially lethal, duel between Mr Sharif, twice prime minister in the past, and Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari.

Yet again it could be observed, what a difference a year makes. Only 12 months ago, hopes for stability in Pakistan were high. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the disorderly election campaign that preceded it had given way not, as widely feared, to violence or a military takeover, but to a serious and largely peaceful election that was judged to be reasonably free and fair. Ms Bhutto's widower, Mr Zardari, and his old adversary briefly made common cause.

Central to their decision was a pledge to reinstate the judges dismissed by Pervez Musharraf in his desperate effort to hold on to power. And for a few months there was an unaccustomed air of optimism, a sense not only that Pakistan had survived the worst, very much against the odds, but that the country's politicians were ready to co-operate for the greater national good and at one in wanting to restore the rule of law.

That this did not happen, and the bitterness of Mr Sharif and many others that it did not, is what precipitated the "long march", currently heading towards the capital. A year, they argued reasonably enough, was quite long enough to wait for the president to honour his promise.

Mr Sharif's – surely calculated, but still courageous – decision to join the protest in person, and the fact that his car was allowed through the police cordon around his residence yesterday, might be said to show President Zardari's strength. More likely, however, it highlights his weakness.

The ambiguity surrounding Mr Sharif's house arrest suggests an inability to enforce it. And without the reinstatement of the judges, the courts, and the forces of law and order are seen in many quarters as lacking legitimacy. The Supreme Court remains the one that Mr Musharraf put in place to support him. It is the same court that disqualified Mr Sharif from politics and barred his brother, Shahbaz, from seeking re-election in Punjab. And it is the same court that recently sanctioned the placing of Punjab, the Muslim League's power base, under direct federal rule.

The opposition's "long march" has, and was intended to have, noble precedents, including Gandhi's peaceful protest of 1930. But mass actions of this kind, however non-violent the intent, risk running out of control. The inadequacies of law enforcement in Pakistan were recently exposed by the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, also in Lahore. With the central authorities blocking routes to the capital, it would be foolish to regard a peaceful end to this march as a foregone conclusion.

Somehow, though, the stand-off has to be resolved – preferably without the intervention of Pakistan's weakened military. With the Taliban extending its power in neighbouring Afghanistan, there is now a real danger of instability erupting across the whole region. President Zardari's dilemma is that, if he yields on the judges, the new Supreme Court could in turn challenge his authority. He has to recognise that almost any other course would be worse.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Apprentice Telesales & Marketing Opportunities

£10400 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

£22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
A Del Tajo la Reina's bull falls during the second  

Spain's torture of bulls has hit a gruesome peak this year – and no thanks to the EU

Mimi Bekhechi
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests