Mar 14, 2009

Hammer and nut

According to a figure supplied by Advocates International there are about 120,000 qualified lawyers in Pakistan, out of a population that is currently around 164 million, give or take a few million. The total numbers of employees in the Punjab Police Department alone (excluding all other provinces) is 166,944 according to the Punjab police force's own website; of which 116,962 are constables. Simple mental arithmetic tells us that even if every lawyer in the country came out in protest or joined the Long March, they would be heavily outnumbered by the police in Punjab. They would be outnumbered not just in the Punjab but everywhere, and the reality is that only a small percentage of the total number of lawyers is actually engaged in protest with the majority giving either moral or tacit support. We do not know what percentage of the total police manpower is deployed in thwarting the intentions of the lawyers but we may assume it to be significant. The political parties have, despite their vocal support for the lawyers, provided little by way of foot soldiers to back them up when it comes to putting boots on the ground, and the Long March is proving to be something of a short ill-tempered amble in the company of the forces of law and order. In that sense – the fact that there are relatively few people actually marching – the March may be said to have been a failure for the men in black and a success for the government; but at another wider level away from the streets and chowks, it may be said to have been a considerable success for the legal eagles. The success of the lawyers may lie not in the restoration of the judiciary to a particular point in time which they may not achieve, but in bringing into sharp focus the chronic ineptitude of governance. The Long March has done little to capture the public imagination. The public are weary of the shouting and rhetoric, and although they support in principle the restoration of the judiciary what they really have a concern about is spiralling inflation, unemployment and utility prices – and are less than delighted that whole cities are blockaded, roads closed and business and trade interrupted yet again. Vox-pop interviews on the TV channels indicate a public view of the current turmoil that is at the very best equivocal and at worst condemnatory of politicians on all sides, and there is a yearning in the public mind for an end to this crisis – coupled with a collapse of support for politics generally. The lawyers have become the catalyst, the change-agents, but not perhaps of the change that they originally envisaged. The change they could yet bring about but by default and not design, is change at the very top. The dominos – in the form of ministers – are beginning to fall. International pressure is being applied. A week, as they say, is a long time in politics.

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