DEMOCRACY has always been a fragile flower in Pakistan and recently it has seemed about to wither at the hands of the country's elected government.
Yesterday, however, it was saved by a peaceful public uprising led by hundreds of lawyers who have been fighting for two years to maintain the independence of the judiciary. As the lawyers and their supporters advanced on Islamabad and threatened a sit-in at the Parliament building, President Asif Ali Zardari capitulated and agreed to the main demand of the demonstrators - that Chief Justice Chaudhry, dismissed by President Musharraf in 2007, should be reinstated to fulfil the promise made by Zardari during last year's election. The effect that this dramatic development will have on Pakistan's many other problems cannot yet be gauged. But in itself it is a signal of victory for democratic forces and a warning to the present administration that it cannot ride rough-shod over the Pakistan people's rights. The most hopeful development would be a resumption of the coalition talks with Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League party which broke down after last year's elections. Pressure has been exerted on President Zardari by the United States and Britain; Washington called the outcome “statesmanlike” but in reality it was a retreat by a weak and misguided President. The most significant news to emerge yesterday was that the head of the Pakistan army, Ashfaq Kayami, was present at the crisis talks which led to the President's decision to yield to the demonstrators' demands.