Mar 12, 2009

Even Musharraf had to wear a uniform

It's that time again. The boys in blue are out, their mission -- the maintenance of public order. Armed with lists of lawyers, political workers and activists that need to be incarcerated, they have set about kicking in doors to people's houses in the dead of night with instruction to haul them off to the local jail. To aid this very noble and necessary task, entire fleets of trucks, containers and tankers have been commandeered to cordon off cities and block roads and miles of razor steel wire have been deployed. Archaic laws enacted to protect and preserve the authority of colonial masters and dictators are being used today against those who defied those dictators. Like General Musharraf on November 3, 2007, all this is being done in the presence of a sitting government, while parliament is in session, while we have a prime minister and some ninety-three ministers. While one does not for a moment suggest that the prime minister and his cabinet will not support and defend these actions one wonders how involved they were in taking this decision.

Charges of sedition and curtailing the assembly of citizens are tools the British used to subjugate a colonised population and to break those fighting to create Pakistan. Today same tools are being used against those seeking to build a democratic and free Pakistan. Section 144, much used against this nation, is one of many black marks on our statute books. Imposed by every government it flies in the face of rights enshrined in our constitution under which citizens have the right to peaceful assembly. Mr Rehman Malik's prescience notwithstanding, there is no basis to assume threats of violence, attacks and those too by the same people who attacked the Sri Lankan team and have managed to escape the police net, and bomb blasts. Perhaps if Mr Malik and his colleagues concentrated on cracking down on those with guns and bombs we may all be happy to come out on to the streets and lend our voices to a movement which seeks to ensure that true democracy is enjoyed by all citizens.

Where has all this anti-people sentiment come from? Who issued the orders for this crackdown? As I write this I see and hear clips on television where Shaheed Benazir Bhutto is calling the people to join a long march to restore the rule of law, the independent judiciary and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. I see and hear Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani say at a huge public rally that the nation voted for an independent judiciary and the restoration of the chief justice and that he would implement the mandate of the people. That was over a year ago but the memory is vivid and the mandate unfulfilled.

Let's come back to present times, the PPP which claims to be a democratic party, working for the betterment of the people, for their rights, for the abolition of feudalism and all other evils, is the same government that now seeks to stop their peaceful protest, that seeks to arrest their heroes and leaders, that seeks to use all tools at its disposal to subjugate them so that no one asks why the people's mandate is ignored, why the people are not relevant in the greater scheme of things. Is it because the people playing out this story were not the same as those from the PPP who struggled on the streets? Nor are they looking at going to the electorate at any point. On the other hand our National Assembly does. So it must not act so helpless, parliament is after all sovereign, or at least that is what they keep telling us, it needs to find its voice and assert that sovereignty now at a time when it is being undermined and even threatened. Or do they not care? I for one do not believe that any of them wishes to be unprincipled or be rejected by the people, no one wants that. No one who has been involved in the struggle for democracy wants to be considered unethical.

Parliament is in session, it's time it does what its members keep harping on and on about… let these matters be discussed in parliament not on the streets. Let it be discussed, it's been a year and nothing other than perks and benefits have been discussed. Of course the military intervened to give parliament a briefing on the military operations in the tribal areas one just hopes it does not intervene again. Get up you ninety-three members of the cabinet and ask why the people who voted for you are being dragged off to prison by anti-democratic forces, ask why there is no democratic dispensation in Punjab, ask why the entire establishment is being mobilised to deny the citizens their right to peaceful assembly, ask how much all this is costing us? And ask if we should be deploying all our resources to arrest Aitzaz Ahsan and other lawyers or should we instead use those very limited resources to track down the perpetrators of all the horrible attacks, bombings, murders, including that of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the Marriott, the Sri Lankan cricket team and countless others. Use your powers as they should be used, not to crush the spirit of the people but to support and nurture that spirit.

Lists of people to be arrested have been shown to all of us on television, what is this – a fascist state? Where there is no right of dissent? Where there is no freedom to believe and want true democratic ideals? What is this place and who are these people? Let us not blame the west, the United States and Britain can only do what they do because our leaders allow them to do so. General Musharraf did this and found himself in political oblivion, all you have to do is read the Indian press to see how ridiculed he is for having offered himself up again for political office. Relevance is only as good as legitimacy.

Where are our great democrats, those upholders of the democratic tradition, those believers in the sovereignty of parliament? It is time for them to get up and speak and reclaim their relevance or they will forever lose their legitimacy.

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