Of Judges and Hope

The current fight for the restoration of the judiciary is the single most important issue for Pakistan in my lifetime, perhaps in Pakistan’s entire existence.

Pakistan has always had only two pillars of state – the army and the politicians. In a functioning democracy, you have three pillars – the executive, legislative and the judiciary. While we will not be heading towards the regular mode of democracy any time soon, it looks like the restoration of the judges fired by the outgoing dictator will empower them all the way to the third pillar of state.

This is a big thing, the biggest in Pakistan’s history after partition. A number of events have conspired to set the stage – the shrinking of the army’s role, semi-fair elections, the lawyers movement, and the rise of the media.

The current crop of politicians are the same as the old, corrupt, feudal, illogical and often stupid beyond belief, but that really doesn’t matter.

A functioning judiciary along with a independent media enables regular people to enter into the political space, and that is a great thing. A lot of people don’t, or can’t understand the importance of a independent judiciary, and to be fair, they can’t be blamed as that is something no one here has ever experienced.

From personal experience, most voting in Pakistan is based on fear and ignorance, coupled with a cynical disbelief in the future of the state. In the feudal areas, the local big man gets the vote – for if he didn’t, the area will suffer, and there is no one for the residents of the people to turn to.

Even in big cities like Karachi, parties like the MQM end up getting the vote – for in their areas no body else dares to run, on fear of death, or worse. What ends up happening is that the only contestants are those with big guns backing them – wealthy feudal landlords with private armies, organizations like the MQM, the Pakistan Army, the intelligence agencies, the Taliban, and other unsavory organizations. Politics in Pakistan is not far from how the mafia operates, where each candidate has to be blessed by a godfather, and independents are assimilated or bumped off.

The fight for the judiciary continues, and despite all the noises coming out from the newly elected parties, they will fight tooth and nail to restrict the ‘new’ judiciary – given that most of our politicians belong in jail, they will fight to the death before allowing a independent judiciary with equal powers alongside the executive/legislate (they are both one and the same in Pakistan).

Sadly, the worlds most important democracy, America, remains on Musharraf’s side against the judiciary, afraid what democracy might bring to it’s vassal state. Considering that it’s Pakistan’s defacto fourth pillar of state, American’s lack of support is earning it plenty of ill will amongst the population at large.

The struggle continues here in Pakistan, today, March 9th being the anniversary of the day Chief Justice Ifthikar Choudhry refused to walk away quietly in the night, breaking a long chain of judicial subservience. There are a number of rallies planned, and large numbers of people are expected to turn up. Given the number of bomb blasts (and intelligence agencies) in Pakistan, even a small number of people is a big thing – as each one is risking his life.

The struggle continues, and Jinnah, a lawyer himself, would mightily approve.

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