Mar 23 - 29, 2009

The month of March has always been a month of special significance for the people of Pakistan. It was on the 23rd day of this month in 1940 that India Muslim League passed a historic resolution demanding separate homeland for Muslims of India at a largely attended meeting at Iqbal Park (then Minto Park) Lahore. Under the inspiring leadership of Quid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, they succeeded in creating a new independent state of Pakistan in 1947?within a short span of seven years. Since then the Pakistani nation is celebrating the anniversary of Pakistan Resolution every year on March 23.

Pakistan has gone through various vicissitudes since its inception. However, the last 2 years (2007 & 2008) have witnessed the worst turmoil & political confrontation of its history. After a prolonged struggle against a Military dictator (General Musharaf), March-2008 saw a new political government taking over power after free and fair general elections in the country. The election gave new hopes to the people in the shape of coalition government of the main political parties of the country namely the Pakistan People Party and the Pakistan Muslim League despite lose of the most popular leader of the country - Benazir Bhutto who was mercilessly assassinated at a public rally in Rawalpindi.

People rightly expected from the political leadership to adhere to the programme agreed in writing in the form of charter of democracy signed by Benazir from PPP and Muslim League, provide some relief to the poor and needy people, and undo the illegal and unconstitutional decisions of the General Musharraf including the unconstitutional sacking of superior judiciary and putting them under house arrest for giving some judgments against the wishes of the general. For reasons best known to Mr. Asif Ali Zardari-the new President elected by the political parties in the coalition Government to replace the General, started backing out of the written agreement gradually on one or the other pretext.

Writing in last (2008) March after taking over the new political Government, I commented in page "Given the all-pervasive hopelessness that had gripped the national political landscape for so long, it indeed is the beginning and the first step on a new journey. It appears to be marking the watershed that clearly separates a contentious political past from a future full of hopefulness and political positivism. If he would be treasury leaders are upbeat because their victory has vindicated their struggle for democracy, the would-be leadership on the other side of the divide has promised to shun the highly polarized past and to act as a constructive parliamentary opposition. Even when the country is mired in multiple troubles, ranging from terrorism bred insecurity to high inflation and painful energy deficits, the very sight of newly elected members taking oath has dramatically lifted the national spirit. However, restoration of deposed judges, the pattern of equation between the presidency and parliament, the new government's policy and plans to tackle the growing menace of terrorism, which would require a review of its cooperative alliance with the West, and grappling with the economic situation are the substantive challenges that PPP-PML(N), ANP coalition would have to deal with. Since the coalition would have no serious difficulty in mustering two-thirds majority to enable it to amend the Constitution, the first two challenges would not be impossible to meet, but the next two would demand patience, hard work innovations.

As stated earlier this did not happen leading to worst confrontation between the two leading coalition partners-PPP & PML (N) with later siding with Lawyer movement (as per commitment) for the restoration of judiciary. The situation dramatically changed when Nawaz Sharif decided to personally lead Lawyers Long March and left Lahore with a huge crowed to reach Islamabad on March 16. As night fell on March 15, the long march was making history. The people of Pakistan refused to be cowed by lathis or unending tear gas. Senior police officials refused to obey orders from Salmaan Taseer's government to use deadly force against unarmed citizens. Every hurdle on the road to Islamabad was simply melting a way in face of the Black Coats' revolution.

MARCH 16 would go down in the annals of the history as another landmark day for Pakistan. As cool breeze of the early morning was blowing, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani came out with a refreshing announcement, which was indeed sweet to ears of every Pakistani. As was expected because of the unfolding drama, the Prime Minister made the eagerly awaited announcement about restoration of all the deposed judges of the superior courts including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. A positive and matching response came from the leadership of the PML (N) and lawyers' community, who instantly called off their long march and sit-in and instead asked their workers and members to celebrate the decision.

The news about restoration of the judges sent a wave of jubilation across the country and the entire nation was glued to the mini screens to watch the fast developing scenario and listen to the address of the Prime Minister. The issue not without reason as the tension caused this for the last two years and especially because of the long march was a source of serious concern to every patriotic Pakistani. Every one was worried as to what would happen when the sea of the protestors accompanying the PML (N) leader Mian Nawaz Sharif and many more that had already poured into the twin cities would converge and try to force their way to the Constitution Avenue, a move that the Government had vowed to foil at all costs. Already the entire Province of Punjab and the Federal Capital Islamabad had been paralyzed due to massive interest of the civil society, lawyers, and political workers to join the march and there were apprehensions that a prolonged siege of the capital or any showdown could provide grounds for derailing of the system itself.

The historic statement of the Prime Minister totally transformed the political atmosphere and provided instant relief to the agitating people and their silent supporters and sympathizers. The amicable resolution of the long drawn issue bears testimony to the fact that the country has the inherent capability and strength to absorb such shocks and move forward. The credit indeed goes to the President and the Prime Minister for acceding to the popular demand that would help clear the mess created by the former President Pervez Musharraf by his headstrong decision of firing the Chief Justice of Pakistan and other honorable judges in the wake of emergency imposed by him. The peaceful resolution of the issue that is considered to be win win situation for all concerned is reflective of the maturity of our national leadership. Therefore, all those who played any role in defusing the situation and helping the warring parties to get closer to an acceptable solution deserve appreciation, as their contribution helped restore normalcy. More important was the pressure exerted by the civil society as the strong public opinion forced the rulers to review their thinking on the issue. In our opinion Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who dashed to Islamabad repeatedly for prolonged and crucial meetings at the hilltop and with the Prime Minister, must have played a decisive role in sorting out the mess. His role is all the more commendable because his predecessor was squarely responsible for the situation and his efforts defused the tension.

Similarly, one must acknowledge the sincere efforts of some of our foreign friends who not only showed concern but facilitated the solution through their good offices. Lawyer's community deserves special appreciation as it was because of their sacrifices that at last the country has started moving towards rule of law and independence of the judiciary. And one should also single out Mian Nawaz Sharif who took the bold decision of leaving his residence in defiance of orders about his house arrest despite threats to his life. It was because of the pressure mounted by the surging caravan that sanity prevailed in Islamabad to settle the issue on an emergent basis. Anyhow, the outcome of the long struggle is victory of democracy and we hope that everyone would now work for consolidation of the democratic process. In his address, the Prime Minister claimed that in the spirit of national reconciliation the Government itself would file a review petition in the Supreme Court against the verdict of the apex court about disqualification of Sharif brothers. However, it would have been most appropriate to lift the controversial Governor Rule in Punjab, allowing the majority party to form the Government. This would have salutary impact on the overall political situation.

While nation has heaved a sign of relief on end of confrontations and uncertainties, it is time to pause for a while on this auspicious occasion of Pakistan day to ponder how much the country of the Quaid has suffered during this period. It was not just the political image and our standing in the international arena but the economy has as well received a serious punch. Now when the nightmare is over, it is time to pay attention to the critical issue facing the country like price hike, decline in various sectors of economy and law & order.