Guest Voice  |  July 10, 2009 5:06 PM

Lessons from the Lawyers' Movement

By Ali Wyne

Although the battle in Swat has understandably captured international attention, it is more a commentary on Asif Zardari's unusual incompetence than it is a reflection of Pakistan's systemic challenges. One can better understand those challenges by considering the outcome of the lawyers' movement.

There was widespread agreement within and outside of Pakistan that Iftikhar Chaudhry's reinstatement as chief justice marked the beginning - albeit fragile and uncertain - of the country's democratization. In reality, however, it reaffirmed the need for (at least) three basic principles to inform Pakistan's political development. First, the rule of law is little more than a rhetorical construct if leaders violate it to maintain power and opponents support it to achieve power. Second, tactics matter. The lawyers' movement helped to bring Zardari to power by opposing Pervez Musharraf; now it is boosting Nawaz Sharif's clout by opposing Zardari. If it does not recalibrate, it may well continue to elevate the very opposition figures who will undermine the rule of law once they acquire power. Third, the divides that must exist for representative institutions to emerge - whether between leaders and opponents, or bureaucrats and activists - lose their meaning if those on either side are rewarded for subordinating principle to ambition.

It is useful to go back ten years in Pakistani history.

Recent events notwithstanding, Musharraf and Chaudhry were once close allies. On January 26, 2000, Chaudhry swore a new oath of office affirming Musharraf's decision to suspend Pakistan's constitution; he was subsequently appointed to the Supreme Court. Four months later, he joined the court's 11 other justices in declaring that the general's takeover through force was legal. On April 13, 2005, Chaudhry was one of only five justices to oppose petitions that challenged Musharraf's constitutional amendments and validate Musharraf's right to serve concurrently as army chief and president; less than a month later, he was appointed chief justice.

The relationship between the two soured when Chaudhry ruled against the government's privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation. Musharraf's subsequent actions - firing Chaudhry on March 9, 2007, declaring a state of emergency on November 3rd when his presidential eligibility was challenged, and sacking Chaudhry again after the Supreme Court had reinstated him - turned Pakistanis against him, thereby emboldening Zardari and Sharif. The two formed a coalition government shortly after Musharraf resigned, only to have it collapse a week later. Sharif claimed that Zardari had reneged on their agreement to restore the judges whom Musharraf had deposed during emergency rule.

Zardari did not vocally support the lawyers' movement while pressing for Musharraf's ouster, because he recognized that an independent judiciary could examine the October 5, 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance that immunized all government officials who served between 1986 and October 12, 1999, when Musharraf took office. Nonetheless, Zardari supported the movement to the extent that it weakened the general and improved his own political prospects.

Pakistanis began pressuring him to reinstate Chaudhry shortly after he took office. Zardari heeded those calls not to advance democracy, but to maintain power (indeed, many suspect that he preconditioned his decision on receiving protection from Chaudhry's "judicial activism"): only a month into his presidency, after all, his approval rating had fallen to 19%.

Like Zardari, Sharif aligned himself strategically with the lawyers' movement, and has already accrued considerable dividends as a result. Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani invited him to join the cabinet so as to restore the image of the Pakistan People's Party, but Sharif rejected the offer, thereby enhancing his reputation as the upstanding outsider. He is also garnering support abroad. Sharif has been meeting with senior officials in the Obama administration to discuss possible mechanisms of Pakistani-American cooperation against the Taliban, cooperation that, some analysts argue, his inclination towards Islamic rule could facilitate.

Notwithstanding these endorsements, Sharif's record gives reason for pause. On November 28, 1997, hundreds of his supporters stormed the Supreme Court while it was hearing a corruption case against him. Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was subsequently removed from office, and Sharif was exonerated of the charges that the court was considering. Less than two years later, Sharif cracked down on the Jang Group's publisher for not firing or demoting several journalists who had published exposes of his administration's corruption. The Supreme Court rendered a judgment in favor of Jang and demanded that the government allow newsprint to be sent to the group's headquarters. Sharif contested the ruling and had officials impound its newsprint supplies. Such abuses compelled many Pakistanis to embrace the coup that brought Musharraf to power.

Going forward, it would be mistaken for Pakistanis to support Sharif on account of Zardari's ineptitude - it is precisely this manner of expediency that has stunted Pakistan's advancement. Now is the time to call out all opportunists, no matter what stripes they may now be wearing.

Ali Wyne is a researcher in Washington, DC.

Guest Voices  |  June 26, 2009 11:40 AM

Was Iran's Election Stolen?

By Mark Weisbrot
co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

Since the Iranian presidential election of June 12, allegations that the announced winner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory was stolen have played an important role in the demonstrations, political conflict, and media reporting on events there. Some say it does not matter whether the elections were stolen because the government has responded to peaceful protests with violence and arrests. These actions are indeed abhorrent and inexcusable, and the world's outrage is justified. So, too, is the widespread concern for the civil liberties of Iranians who have chosen to exercise their rights to peacefully protest.

At the same time, the issue of whether the election was stolen will remain relevant, both to our understanding of the situation and to U.S.-Iranian relations, for reasons explained below. It is therefore worth looking at whether this allegation is plausible.

Continue »

Guest Voice  |  June 18, 2009 5:11 PM

Young Iranians' Collective Release

"We can't be careful," he said when I urged him to stay indoors. "We can't lose this chance."

By Jonathan Spollen

Iran's electoral watchdog, the Guardian Council, said today that it was investigating 646 complaints of polling violations in the country's disputed presidential elections, and announced it will hold a meeting Saturday with the three defeated presidential contenders to hear their allegations of voting irregularities.

Meanwhile, more than 100,000 opposition protesters filled the streets and squares of Tehran in the sixth straight day of mass rallies in Iran's capital, with many wearing black and holding candles to commemorate the deaths of at least eight demonstrators killed by Iranian security forces on Monday.

Reports of voting irregularities in last Friday's election range from shortages of ballots to voting centres being closed prematurely to reports of turnouts in at least 30 locations registering over 100 per cent.

Continue »

Guest Voice  |  June 12, 2009 3:50 PM

The Speech Netanyahu Won't Give

By Ori Nir

Here's what Benyamin Netanyahu should - but most likely won't - say in his much-anticipated policy speech on Sunday.

Bar Illan University President Moshe Kaveh, distinguished faculty, distinguished guests, dear Israelis:

In every nation's history, there are moments that call on its leader to face the truth and tell the truth to his fellow countrymen and women. This is such a moment. It is a moment of peril, but also a moment of great opportunity.

You have heard a lot from me in recent months about the peril. I am terribly concerned about the existential threats to our country. But you have not heard enough from me about the opportunity that we have today to devise a strategic, long-term approach to reduce these threats.

We have an opportunity - one that may not reoccur for generations to come - to reach the kind of regional security that we have been seeking since our parents and grandparents established this astonishing country sixty-one years ago.

Continue »

Guest Voice  |  June 2, 2009 11:25 AM

Time for Peace in Kashmir

By Mansoor Ijaz

India's recent elections have ushered in a historic opportunity to address the issue of Kashmir. Over 417 million voters turned out to give the world's most populous democracy its most stable government ever. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the affable economist-turned-politician, should now turn Congress's election mandate into an impetus for making unprecedented decisions on national security. Kashmir should be at the top of the priority list.

Some would argue that the landslide election results mean India doesn't need to make peace with Pakistan over Kashmir. I argue the opposite. India's political maturity and growing economic power give it maneuvering room not available to Pakistan, a country besieged by Islamist insurgency, shattered confidence in institutions and a failed economy.

India defeated Pakistan twice in two wars. Pakistanis have watched India rise to regional superpower status economically, politically and militarily. In many ways, India's success fostered Pakistan's radicalization. Rather than confront its self-created demons at home, Pakistan first blusters and then begs the world to save it.

Continue »

Guest Voice  |  May 29, 2009 12:14 PM

Israel Shouldn't Sign the NPT

By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman

North Korea's newest nuclear blast raises many questions, but also provides a discomfiting answer to a big one: Is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty working? The answer is no. Over the years, Pyongyang has made a mockery of U.N. and U.S. non-proliferation efforts. Neither then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's charm offensive with Kim Jong-Il nor the subsequent Bush Administration's diplomatic offensive through six-power talks have restrained North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The newest nuclear and missile testing are an unmistakable slap at President Obama's call for broader dialogue. What's also particularly galling to U.S. officials is that Pyongyang signed the Nuclear Treaty and then proceeded to render it virtually meaningless. Meanwhile, treaty non-signatory Pakistan followed non-signatory India in unleashing the nuclear genie on the Subcontinent while doing nothing as Sir Ahmad Khan proliferated nuclear weapons technology from Tehran to Pyongyang. Today, the world is left to hold its collective breath as the Taliban nips at the gates of Islamabad--too close to Pakistan's growing nuclear arsenal.

Continue »

Guest Voice  |  May 27, 2009 1:47 PM

Biden's Unfinished Balkan Business

By Gülnur Aybet and Florian Bieber

Vice President Joseph Biden last week paid a visit to the Balkans' troublesome triangle: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. The visit displayed the Obama administration's reengagement with the region after it dropped from America's list of priorities after 9/11. Could the Western Balkans be catching Washington's attention once again even as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan dominate much of the foreign policy agenda?

There is plenty of unfinished business from the early 1990s, issues significant to the U.S. and to the EU's role in the region. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions was considered essential to democratic governance, free markets and human rights. NATO and EU enlargement were seen as tandem processes in the grand design of "Europe whole and free." The Western Balkans have been struggling to keep up with this process, with only Bulgaria and Romania as members today of both organizations. Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo face a series of inter-linked obstacles to accession, which is why Biden's first visit to the region was confined to those three countries.

Continue »

Panelist View  |  May 22, 2009 11:57 AM

A Failing Business, But A Still-Admired Model

The Current Discussion: American newspapers are in dire financial straits. How are newspapers faring where you are? Are you concerned about the future of journalism in America or in your own country? What does that future look like?

Even before the current international financial crisis, newspapers in the Arab world were struggling to survive and remain somewhat relevant in the face of diminishing financial resources, shrinking advertisement, and reduced distribution. The plight of the print media in the Arab world has been exacerbated by the incredible proliferation of satellite television, the growing penetration of the Internet, and the recent expansion of the blogosphere. Today most Arabs, like most Americans, unfortunately get their news from television and other new media.

Continue »

Guest Voice  |  May 12, 2009 8:08 AM

Somalia Adopts Islamic Law

By Hussein Yusuf

The Somali parliament last month unanimously passed a bill to adopt Islamic law as national legislation. The real issue is not the adoption of Islamic law alone, but how it is interpreted and implemented, and whether there can be a national consensus on what exactly constitutes Islamic law in Somalia.

This move, initiated by the Somali transitional federal government on March 10th, appeared to appease an umbrella group of influential and politicized Islamic organizations (led by the recently formed extremist group Al Shabaab, meaning "the youth"), which are leading an insurgency effort against President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's fragile federal government.

Discussions between the federal government and Al Shabaab have been highly secretive, with little information released about the nature of negotiations and how judges should actually interpret specific rules and guidelines in the newly adopted system of Islamic law. Overall, the nature of how Islamic law will take shape in Somalia remains ambiguous.

Continue »

Guest Voice  |  April 30, 2009 5:18 PM

Pakistan's Zardari Goes to Washington

By Mansoor Ijaz

Pakistan has a split personality problem. Its citizens can rise up en masse on one day to depose a military dictator and reinstate honest judges, but the next day seem helpless to stop politicians from ceding strategic territory to enemies who publicly flog a 17-year old woman as a show of justice. Most American taxpayers, who are being asked to finance aid even as the country disintegrates, don't have the faintest idea how to decode what's really wrong there or where to begin to help. President Zardari could change that during his upcoming visit to Washington - but it would require his bold domestic leadership and a new direction for Pakistan and its relationship with the U.S.

Pakistan's central problem today is the systemic failure of its federal, provincial and local governments to provide for its citizens' basic needs, whether public safety, healthcare, education or employment. The Taliban is stepping in to fill that void. Hamas did the same in Palestinian enclaves throughout Israel when PLO leadership failed to offer disenfranchised Palestinians a structured way of life. You've heard it before: security is assured, albeit through intimidation and brutality. Basic daily staples like food and clothing come from Arab-financed hawala cash transfers. Education comes from Saudi-funded madrassa schools. Legal disputes are settled through harsh Islamic laws. Only geography makes the Pakistani case different from that of the Palestinians.

To make matters worse, America's visible role in Pakistan's internal affairs only helps the Taliban's cause. Pakistan's woefully inadequate leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, has been privately lectured and publicly admonished by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Those lectures have made him look like an American stooge playing to the often conflicting ways in which Washington wants Islamabad to act.

Continue »

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.