Last month, the New York Times asked if Pakistan “can mix well with democracy.” U.S. officials, often conflating the small number of Islamic radicals with the entire Pakistani population, fear that fair, free, and democratic elections in Pakistan might put the Islamic radicals in power. Would it not be ridiculous if we sought to dismantle democracy in America for fear that the powerful Christian fundamentalist movement might influence the elections? The media seems to confuse the two, case in point, the recent heavy coverage of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) event and its ensuing violence: ubiquitious coverage of the actions, messages, and movements of a small fraction of Pakistan’s population gives the impression that Pakistan is full of crazed mullahs, self detonating martyrs, and anti-democracy elements.
But to answer the question, can Pakistan mix well with democracy, I would say yes. In fact, democratic forces had a resounding victory today: Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has been reinstated by Pakistan’s Supreme Court after months of political turmoil. With a 10-3 vote, Judge Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday declared Musharraf’s suspension of the Chief Justice as illegal. Chaudhry was suspended, many think, so that the president could put in place someone more likely to bend to Musharraf’s authority. This victory marks the first serious challenge to Musharraf’s power during his reign. But the judicial victory did not come without cost. Amidst numerous and vigorous protests by lawyers, activists, and ordinary Pakistani citizens, when the Chief Justice was initially suspended in May, more than 40 people were killed in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan. This prompted opposition senators to demand that Musharraf step down.
Chief Justice Chaudhry, the judges, the lawyers, opposition members, activists, journalists, and civil society groups should be applauded for their courage. In addition, this is definitely a victory for the democratic movement in the country and raises the question as to whether Musharraf can continue his rule, but democracy in Pakistan still has a long way to go. Although the same can be said for us as well these days.