Friday, June 20, 2008

The significance of the "Long March" in Pakistan

Today's Indian Express has a column providing analysis of recent events in Pakistan, focusing on the lawyers' "Long March" held on June 10 in Islamabad.

It is refreshing to see a renewed focus in the Indian media on these significant developments in Pakistan, which have the potential of altering the balance of power between the important social actors in that nation and are also crucial for the entrenchment of democracy. The global media in general seems to have lost interest in covering events in Pakistan closely after the February 2008 elections when parliamentary democracy was restored, seemingly bringing to an end Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule in November 2007. That declaration of emergency was declared to be "the strangest ever" by TR Andhyarujina, because it explicitly set out "judicial activism" as a reason for the imposition of emergency.

The current set of events are significant because they are designed towards restoring to the judiciary in Pakistan the judges and powers that Musharraf sought to take away in November 2007. The unique aspects of the November 2007 situation in Pakistan (and the prominent role of lawyers in the unfolding of those events) are underlined in this detailed piece in the New York Times Magazine which provides useful background information on the legal and constitutional history of Pakistan, and the crucial role played by legal and judicial elites in seeking to preserve democratic traditions. This excellent piece also serves as a detailed profile of one of the leading figures in recent events in Pakistan, Aitzaz Ahsan, who came into prominence as the lawyer for Chief Justice Chaudhry.

Another take on these recent events is provided by Anil Kalhan, who has closely followed events in Pakistan over the past year. Like the NYT Magazine piece above, Kalhan too focuses on the role of the US in these events, drawing attention to the complex geopolitical calculations that are involved. Those interested in democracy in South Asia should continue to keep a close tab on this issue.
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