The stolen march

Taken together, the concessions Qadri has wrangled from the government inject further uncertainty into the run-up to the general election that must be held, at the latest, by June 2013. The obvious path to disruption though, admittedly, few things in Pakistan follow an obvious path is the Supreme Court, led by the mercurial Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry whose tenure expires in December and who has shown an appetite for disrupting the government's plans.

With Qadri and his followers camped out a few hundred metres from the Supreme Court, which sits adjacent to the parliament Qadri had arrived in Islamabad to besiege, Chief Justice Chaudhry dropped a bombshell, seemingly verbally ordering the arrest of the prime minister in a power-sector scam. The order turbocharged the political circus that Qadri had brought to the capital and in a moment exposed the frailties of an unpopular government dependent on many allies in an unwieldy coalition.

Protesters on the street, a hostile Supreme Court turning the screws and a powerful army watching quietly in the background, perhaps even directly encouraging political instability the script for an early end, yet again, to a civilian-led order can be put together quickly enough. This time, though, the chief justice did not follow through on his implicit threat and Qadri was quickly isolated by the political forces, leaving him to negotiate a face-saving exit from Islamabad.

And therein lies a key lesson for the civilians: if they close ranks, if enlightened self-interest informs their actions, the democratic order can continue and strengthen itself. With the government seemingly on the defensive, forced to accommodate Qadri's demands about where precisely he wanted to stage his sit-in, Nawaz Sharif, leader of the largest opposition party, gathered a group of smaller opposition leaders at his residence in Lahore and issued a stirring rebuttal to Qadri's unconstitutional demands.

... contd.

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