PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif held a press conference after his party's parliamentary party and Central Working Committee met to consider an agenda which consisted of the party's participation in the lawyer's long march and sit-in outside Parliament, even though there was a reiteration of the past stand, which the PML-N has been carrying ever since the elections a year ago. He probably went through the consultative exercise because the PPP had done the same while rejecting this position earlier. The PML-N offers the nation an unstinted backing of the deposed judges, while the PPP has offered a partial restoration by the route of a fresh oath for most, but by no means all, the deposed judges. The PML-N has committed itself to the judges, going to the extent of pulling out its ministers from the Federal Cabinet when the PPP showed some hesitation in restoring the deposed judges. The PML-N has shown that it considers the restoration of judges as necessary to the independence of the judiciary. The PML-N has gone to the extent of being ready to sacrifice its government in the Punjab, through the mechanism of the disqualification of its Quaid Nawaz Sharif and its President Shahbaz, who is chief minister of the province. The PPP has long wanted to rule in Punjab, with the second Shahbaz government often being stumped, though so far unsuccessfully, by the PPP point man in the province, Governor Salman Taseer. However, this is probably what drove the PML-N towards the lawyers' movement. Though primarily intended for a purpose that has not been achieved, the restoration of the deposed judges, the lawyers' movement is said to have achieved what the political parties were alone unsuccessful in doing, the removal of the Musharraf martial law. But Nawaz campaigned in the 2009 general election on an independence of judiciary platform, with the primary plank being the restoration of the judges, whom Musharraf had deposed when he imposed Emergency and enforced another PCO, under which judges were supposed to make fresh oath, or vacate their offices. The Sharif brothers have not appeared in a court where PCO judges sit, which lawyers tried to do, but since they had to make a living, they decided not to keep up this condition, and are now appearing before any judge or bench before whom or which a case is fixed. Since this was the main campaign plank on which it campaigned, the PML-N has found itself, even though it is used as a party to trim its sails, taking more and more extreme positions on the judges. The consultative exercise was not just meant for Nawaz to lay down the party line, but also to find out if the issue is a live one or not. With the long march to Islamabad just over a month off, it appears that the PML-N constituencies have told the party leadership that the issue is still a live one. The PML-N's commitment to the restoration of the judges has also been a party stand that has probably lasted the longest, to a large extent because the government has dragged out the issue so long. This is not the first time that the PML-N has gotten involved with the judiciary. Indeed, Mian Nawaz, who is a lawyer by qualification, though he has never practiced, nor is he licensed by any bar, and thus leave alone a member of any bar association, has been after cheap and quick justice, at least in criminal cases, ever since he was himself a chief minister, and he persuaded then PM and PML chief Muhammad Khan Junejo to pass a constitutional amendment allowing speedy trial courts. Nawaz tried again when PM, in both tenures, though it was the Supreme Court which forbade the semi-military speedy trial courts he brought in. Nawaz thus has a healthy reverence for the judiciary which the PPP lacks. The PPP has clashed with the judiciary, and since 1988 especially, has tried to bend it to its will, because of its perception that the judiciary has always been against the PPP, while Ziaul Haq packed the benches with judges naturally against the PPPP. Probably the climax of this was the famous judges' case, in which there were many PPP appointees forced off the Benches, and the seniority principle was made sacrosanct. However, Musharraf did not take this judgement very seriously, but it was a very serious judgement for the PPP. The PPP would like the judiciary to be an adjunct of the party, but the demands of democracy are that the judiciary should remain free of any political influence. The PPP, probably non-historically, sees itself as the vanguard party of Pakistan, not as one of several competing parties, and thus would not like a neutral judiciary. Another important question is whether the lawyers' movement is running out of steam. It is possible for a movement to run out of steam if its leaders are exhausted, but new leaders will emerge if the underlying causes are not met. While the lawyers themselves would like an end to the movement, they cannot bring it to an end without a victory. So far, they resisted the assistance of any political party. In fact, they claimed the support of all parties, but cracks appeared when the lawyers' leader, Ch Aitzaz Ahsan, by virtue of being the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, turned down a PPP ticket because of the boycott call made by the lawyers. Till then, and after, the lawyers refused any help from political parties, but with the advent of Ali Ahmad Kurd as SCBA president, the PML-N has been allowed to not just support the lawyers, but join their main event. Ascribing the change to Kurd alone is probably to give him too much credit, for the decision-making process among the lawyers is democratic and virtually consensual. The lawyers have also given themselves an escape route by saying that the long march is being taken out by many organisations, not just the lawyers. However, while the PML-N will lend its weight to the long march and the subsequent sit-in (which did not take place during the last long march, which was organised by the lawyers alone), the party is not known for its street power, and the long march will be a new kind of test for the party. In a way, it will have to transform itself in a very short time, because if its people, mostly attuned to elections, do not put on a good show, the party's ability to fight future elections will be compromised. However, the lawyers still have an advantage, for their movement will not be over till the judiciary is truly independent. E-mail: