Political drama takes new twist with house-arrest order on opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.
|The political drama may be over for now but Pakistan’s leaders still face serious challenges [EPA]|
Pakistan has now had time to let the news sink in.
After two years – countless hours of radio and TV coverage, acres of print, a state of emergency, the resignation of a president, the return of exiled leaders, the death of one of them, Benazir Bhutto; mass arrests and a potential showdown between the government and the opposition parties – a line has now been drawn under the ‘Chaudhry affair’.
With the flick of a pen, Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistani prime minister, has reinstated judges sacked by the former president, Pervez Musharraf, and averted a situation many feared would completely destabilise the country.
But what next?
Pakistan is a country in turmoil. On Monday night, a bomb exploded outside a hotel in Rawalpindi, just outside of the capital Islamabad.
Initial reports suggest the intended target was the lawyers’ ‘Long March’ on the capital, but after the procession was called off the bomber then struck, seemingly at random.
Eleven people have died so far, more are injured in hospital, in just one of a wave of suicide bombers who have struck right across Pakistan in the last few years.
Pakistan’s economic woes continue as the price of basic food stuffs climbs and the cost of fuel, despite a global cut in prices, remains high.
Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves are at a critical level and the government is desperately trying to stop investors from withdrawing their money from the country.
On the country’s border with India, troops remain on high alert. November’s attack on hotels in Mumbai, India, and the raid on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore are fresh in everyone’s mind.
Liberal elite concerns
The rise of ultra-conservative religious elements is causing great concern among the countries liberal elite and tensions over Kashmir still bubble.
Despite peace deals in some areas, the Pakistani army is still involved in pitched battles with the Pakistani Taliban along the border with Afghanistan.
And, as if all this was not enough, the war in Afghanistan rages on.
The US, its top priority being the so-called war on terror, is putting immense pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban and continues to pound Pakistani villages along the border with missiles, killing countless civilians.
This country poses a significant challenge for any politician.
All sides in the ‘Chaudhry affair’ are claiming the reinstatement of the chief justice a victory.
But the vast majority of Pakistanis live outside of the Islamabad bubble, separated by an invisible border that surrounds the political capital and the rest of the country.
I decided to visit Gujranwala, a mid-size city in the Punjab, to try and get a sense of what ordinary Pakistanis felt about the state of their nation and their role within in it.
“You asked me about the chief Justice… I don’t know if I care. My life has not changed, justice is for people who can afford it.”
Salman, resident of Gujranwala city, Punjab
Salman was frying kebabs at a street stall. He sells them for a few rupees and makes, if he is lucky, a couple of dollars a day.
“I am fortunate,” he says. “I have an income. But you asked me about the chief justice … I don’t know if I care. My life has not changed, justice is for people who can afford it. We look to God for our protection.”
It is a sentiment Al Jazeera heard throughout our time in Gujranwala.
Ordinary Pakistanis watched the events unfold on their television sets, like others in the west would watch a fictional television show.
Salman continues: “This was a big drama … played by the politicians.”
Now that it is over. Pakistan’s politicians have another serious challenge on their hands: To try and make life better for people like Salman, and to help those worse off than him.
But given the list of problems Pakistan has, can that be done?
Back in Lahore, it is a question I put to my friend Nasser.
“Pakistanis are tough bunch. It doesn’t matter what the politicians do … we still have to live our lives.
“There is a saying, my friend, Islamabad is 15 miles away, outside of Pakistan.”