As the "Long March" by the Pakistani lawyers gets headlines in Pakistan and around the world, it is natural to ask what is all the fuss about? Ostensibly, it is to restore Pakistani judiciary as an independent and powerful institution and strengthen democracy. But is this a realistic expectation that an independent, powerful judiciary supported by lawyers and the media in Pakistan would be good for democracy and the rights of the average citizen? Let's look at the following facts to answer this question:
1. In most international opinion surveys on professional ethics, lawyers consistently rank near the bottom. They are slightly below the journalists and above the politicians and used car salesmen in how they are perceived by the general public worldwide. If the recent success of the movie "Michael Clayton" is any indication, the public perception of lawyers breaks down into four archetypes, each represented by a character in the movie: brutal (Sydney Pollack), disappointed (George Clooney), psychotic (Tom Wilkinson) and criminal (Tilda Swinton). It’s probably no coincidence that Clayton’s only Oscar went to Swinton.
2. In most of the rest of the world, the judges are generally perceived as honest. But not in Pakistan. According to Transparency International surveys, the Pakistani judiciary is considered the third most corrupt institution after police and power departments. Even the taxation and customs people are regarded as more honest than the judges. Among the four provincial governments, the Transparency survey ranks Punjab (the hub of the lawyers movement) as the most corrupt and NWFP the least corrupt.
3. The Pakistani judiciary (including Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry with PCO-I) has a long and inglorious history of undermining the laws and the constitution of Pakistan. This scribe has had personal experience with the individual judges of the highest courts showing little respect for the rule of law and engaging in corrupt practices and nepotism in their own personal lives.
So why are the judges and the lawyers being elevated to such high stature by the "civil society" (read: foreign-funded NGOs*) and their media and politician cheerleaders? The answer probably lies in their obsessive need for vengeance against Musharraf by the PML(N), the lawyers and the journalists.
It probably goes beyond that. The real agenda appears to be to frustrate the newly elected PPP government and make it impossible for it to deliver on the PPP promises to the people in terms of their basic needs of roti, bijli and paani. Such a failure would likely result in the ouster of the PPP, early elections and the "restoration" of the pre-1999 situation with PML(N) government led by Nawaz Sharif.
This agenda can be accomplished with or without the restoration of judges. If the activist judges such as Iftikhar Chaudhry are restored, they can get rid of Musharraf by declaring his election invalid and rule against his NRO to put Zardari behind bars. Even if the judges are not restored, the continuing turmoil will still serve Nawaz Sharif's purpose of forcing early elections and ensuring his victory by pointing to lack of performance by Zardari.
The risk is that all the scheming by Nawaz Sharif and his supporters may actually give civilian led democracy a bad name and damage its prospects in Pakistan.
*Note on "civil society" NGOs: A recent Asian Development Bank report on Pakistani NGOs says as follows: "Much of the alarm of the Government about NGOs is recent and direct result of activities of the new breed of NGOs that appear less interested in delivering services or implementing development projects than in lobbying and advocacy. Many of these NGOs have sprung up overnight, and many appear to have huge funds and international support at their command, even though they lack any track record. They are often perceived as agents of outsiders with agendas that may be detrimental to Pakistan."