Arrest order takes focus off Qadri movement

None of the telltale signs associated with a coup in Pakistan was in place. The 111 Brigade had not rolled into Islamabad from Rawalpindi and nor was anyone addressing the nation with the “mere aziz hum-watno” (my dear fellow nationals) catchphrase that has invariably heralded in martial law. Yet coup talk was back in full flow on Tuesday afternoon.

Amid stand-off

Soon after the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the Prime Minister, the rumour mill began working overtime.

What many found curious was the timing of the announcement — in the middle of a stand-off between the government and Pakistani-Canadian cleric-politician Tahir-ul Qadri being played out just a stone’s throw away from the Supreme Court building.

Before the court’s decision came, Dr. Qadri had been holding forth for an hour-and-a-half about his seven-point national agenda for electoral and democratic reforms. Alternatively addressing the world and the domestic audience, he switched back and forth between English to Urdu and had only disclosed the first point of his agenda when the news of the Premier’s arrest orders was cited as a victory of his “Long March” to Islamabad.

Almost immediately, the focus shifted to the emerging political scenario and the man who has dominated television channels for a month-and-half — first through advertisements galore and then huge media exposure — faded out.

However, he announced a return on Wednesday to deliver the rest of his speech with promise of more such success.

Meanwhile, noted human rights activist Asma Jehangir fired the first salvo, stating that one had to be naïve not to see a connection between Dr. Qadri’s mobilisation and the court order. “The boots are behind this,” she said, adding that the vested interests of the establishment were loath to let go of their hold over the system.

Disappointment

Also, she expressed disappointment with herself for having been part of the lawyers’ movement that reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Several journalists claimed they got messages from lawyers saying they now regret standing up for this judiciary.

Using cricket parlance, some others described the developments as “match fixing with the same bookies”. While protests began in Sindh against the order and the Pakistan Peoples Party leadership brought out the martyrdom card — saying the establishment had never allowed any of its governments to complete their term — another faction of the lawyers’ fraternity could be seen celebrating the arrest order.

Judiciary’s role

The reason for the judiciary’s role in the turn of events coming under the scanner can be found in Pakistan’s history. Every military intervention was validated by the judiciary and the present pantheon includes judges who had validated Pervez Musharraf’s coup; a point that was immediately bandied about. Though several analysts do not foresee a repeat performance, the apprehension is that the Court – by ordering the arrest at this juncture – has created a situation Pakistan’s fledgling democracy can ill afford.

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