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Thursday, February 26, 2009

POLITICS-PAKISTAN: Court Ruling May Deepen Political Crisis Analysis by Beena Sarwar

But the alliance between Pakistan’s two main political parties fell apart, mainly over the restoration to office of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry - whose dismissal by Musharraf in 2007 sparked unrest led by the legal fraternity.

"The move [Wednesday’s apex court ruling] plunges Pakistan back into familiar territory," said PML-N parliamentarian Ayaz Amir, talking to IPS on the phone from the capital Islamabad. "Another crisis, another round of turbulence... We seem to be cursed with the Chinese saying, ‘may you live in interesting times’."

For most, the Supreme Court ruling - which upheld a lower court verdict, last June, that made Nawaz Sharif ineligible to stand for elections on airplane hijacking charges - has come "like a bolt from the blue," as Asha’ar Rehman, resident editor of the daily ‘Dawn’ in Lahore put it.

"The political repercussions will be horrific. We were hoping they would show some maturity and let a reconciliation happen," added Rehman, talking to IPS from Lahore, capital of the Punjab and the stronghold of the Sharifs.

Iqbal Haider, advocate and chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, termed the decision as being "against democracy, not against the Sharif brothers’’.

In a no-holds barred press conference at his Lahore residence, shortly after the court ruling, a belligerent Nawaz Sharif said he had no problems with the PPP, but held the party head, Zardari, directly responsible for the contentious judgement.

The country was bracing for a lawyers’ ‘long march’ to restore Choudhry, scheduled to kick off on Mar. 12 and ending with a sit-in or ‘dharna’ in Islamabad. The PML-N has enthusiastically supported the move.

Ayaz Amir, who has warned against making the restoration of Choudhry the "be all and end all" of politics, told IPS he felt his PML-N party had "stuck its horns too much into this one issue".

The planned long march, Amir predicted, ''will get more momentum now, but it won’t restore the judges. There will be more instability and tumult, with politicians being further discredited in the public eye''.

More ominously, widespread unrest could also leave the army with "no choice" but to step in - something it is, at this point, clearly reluctant to do.

Amir hopes it will not come to that. "We’re not at that point yet. We have to wait and see what happens when the situation plays itself out."


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