Law and Order: Pakistan

Well, it’s been a hell of a weekend in Pakistan, and as far as I can see North American broadcast outlets have done little to tell you about it, but that’s easy to understand because things are moving fast over there.

On Friday a bunch of opposition parties and groups were preparing to march on Islamabad to protest against the politicization of the judiciary, and specifically to call for the reinstatement of a former Supreme Court chief justice who was kicked out of the job in 2007 by Pervez Musharraf. Benazir Bhutto had called for the reinstatement, as had opposition figure Nawaz Sharif; but Bhutto’s widow, the country’s embattled president Asif Ali Zardari, had refused to budge, once in power, to undo Musharraf’s blunder.

What happened over the weekend is that Zardari got spooked by the prospect of dissent and overplayed his hand. He ordered Sharif and others put under house arrest, and tightened a crackdown on critical media. The latter move was the first to turn out to be a mistake: the country’s information minister quit rather than keep playing bad cop. (At first the government tried to deny she’d quit. Handy tip: if a government is going to try to deny its information minister has quit, you really don’t want to be that government’s information minister.)

Then Sharif walked right out of his house and turned toward Islamabad; hundreds, then thousands, of supporters joined him; the police pushed back briefly, then recalculated the odds and gave up. The Zardari government announced his prime minister would address the nation on television at 2 a.m. The TV pitch was pushed back to 5 a.m., a bit haphazardly, and finally Zardari’s guy said the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, can return (one paper called it a golden moment in Pakistan’s history).

British, U.S. and Pakistan reports confirm that phone calls from Richard Holbrooke, Hillary Clinton and David Miliband were crucial in making Zardari see reality. Lawrence Cannon took the weekend off. He’s said to be mulling a return to Quebec provincial politics; how will anyone be able to tell he was away?

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