Mar 12, 2009

Long march & the blundering government

Nasim Zehra

This is how the government plans to kill the spirit of those who are demanding accountable exercise of State and Executive authority through rule of law ensured through an independent judiciary: widespread arrests of politicians, lawyers, political workers and human rights activists, late-night and early-morning house raids by the police to nab organisers of the long march, setting up barricades to prevent movements of vehicles and people towards Islamabad, confiscating goods-loaded containers from transport companies to block all entry points into Islamabad, imposition of Section 144 in the major towns of Punjab and even Sindh. Unworkable.

Does the government recognise what it is up against? If the March 9, 2007, dismissal of the Chief Justice of Pakistan by a military president triggered the birth of a genuine and unique people's movement, three subsequent events ensured that the movement would retain political momentum and popular support for the third year. One, the Nov 3 imposition of a mini-martial law in the name of emergency by General Parvez Musharraf through which he packed up the judiciary. The second was the blatant violation by PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari of his March 9, 2008, and subsequent August 2008 Agreement to restore the Nov 2 judiciary. The third is the Feb 25, 2009, Supreme Court judgment, which led to the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif and the imposition of governor's rule in Punjab. Ironically, the Feb 25 moves, undertaken partially to sabotage, if not weaken the March 16 long march, may in fact have added to its momentum.

Meanwhile, the government's determination to sabotage the long march may not work. Already the repression-resistance cycle has been triggered. This will only grow. The government has put itself on "track disaster." Well before the 16th these highly provocative actions of rounding up activists, workers and leaders may prove to be an impetus for the long march initiative. Nationwide broadcasts of these nation-wide arrests, midnight raids and barricaded towns could motivate those sitting home to join the long march.

Many in Pakistan now believe that the success of this long march alone will take us closer to making Pakistan into the kind of state and society that the Quaid-e-Azam and his followers had dreamt of. The lawyers' movement has awakened a nation which, drowned in the din of vacuous politics and frustrated by debilitating power battles, had almost lost hope of ever experiencing genuine rule of law, an independent judiciary and constitutional democracy. Their grand claims notwithstanding, the politicians and military and civilian rulers were never going to deliver on fundamental requirement of rule of law. The State and Executive authority will therefore almost always remain unaccountable. Against this backdrop the unstated truth at a popular level was that the Quaid's Pakistan was to always remain a dream, that the rights of Pakistan's citizens will always remain secondary to the games that the power players and power brokers play.

March 9 has radically altered this. Even if for a limited number, the post-March 9 developments initially provided them hope that change could be led by forces other than mainstream politicians. As the lawyers' movement gathered momentum it rekindled the hope for a New Pakistan, the Quaid's Pakistan, among urban-based groups from all classes.

The chief justice's dismissal and the imposition of emergency were the triggers for this popular spirit, which through collective action and organisation has now been converted into popular political power. Of the many significant characteristics of this new form of popular political power, six are noteworthy.

One, while this is popular political power it is non-parliamentary and does not seek electoral power. Two, it seeks to influence electoral politics. The adoption of the restoration agenda by mainstream political parties like the PML-N, and to some extent by the PPP, is proof of the success of this non-parliamentary power to actually influence electoral politics. Three, this popular political power may draw support from various political and non-political groups, but in its objective of seeking justice, this power is not aligned to any political party. Hence, this power is committed to the principle of justice, and not to a particular political party.

Four, this popular political power, which has not emerged around partisan politics, has been caused by the experiential Pakistani wisdom that without justice and fair play by the State and the Executive, the Pakistani nation will continue to suffer political cronyism and nepotism, corruption of the powerful and the influential, increasingly distraught huge Pakistani population whether in Balochistan, absence of genuine and sustained democracy, the tribal areas or interior Sindh, expanding poverty, economic under development, absence of security and collective lack of self-confidence and dignity.

Five, this popular political power is positive, not bitter, in content and thrust. The non-violent and inclusive nature of this popular political power holds out genuine hope for Pakistan's ability to move ahead on a non-violent, non-divisive and democratic political path at the end of which there could be redress for those who have been wronged. Six, while the popular political power has many key individuals who have contributed to the emergence of this popular political power, individuals like Munir A Malik, Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmad Kurd and Hamid Khan, it is collective yet dispersed leadership which has given strength and stability to this popular political power. Even the chief justice, while being an inspirational figure, is constantly under sharp focus of those within the ranks of this popular political power who want him to remain just and fair, and indeed non-political at all cost. Interestingly, the overriding thrust of all these elements is the demand from the politically powerful for justice and fair play.

With the movement in its third year and proceeding now within a different political context from what existed in 2007, the support for this movement has largely remained intact. Had it been a situation in which controversial sections of the 17th Amendment had been repealed, the president would have given up 58(2)(b) and the new judges in the High Courts would have been appointed through the CoD, maybe the lawyers' movement may have lost momentum. People would have viewed the government as one keen to revive the essence of the 1973 Constitution and to strengthen independent institutions.

From hope to reality, that is the journey on which non-parliamentary, non-electoral politics of Pakistan is gradually embarking upon. Many from electoral politics, especially from the opposition, have also joined this journey. The unquestioned and undiluted destination of this journey is rule of law, independent judiciary and accountable exercise of State and Executive authority. The modalities of arriving at that destination could be altered depending on Pakistan's changing power context. However, 2008 has shown that even with a legitimately elected democratic government in office, peaceful struggle and less dialogue may be the way forward towards the destination "rule of law." The elected government has sidelined the Charter of Democracy (CoD), on substantive issues, the most significant and valid roadmap towards good governance and independent judiciary outlined jointly by the PPP and PML-N leaders.

This journey is a long and difficult one. Not merely full of potholes but indeed with hurdles as huge as the containers! The symbolism of the containers that the administration is now stacking to stop the long march from entering Islamabad is not lost. These hurdles cannot last long because the logic of where we stand as a country, with all the problems of State, politics and society, demands that we proceed on this journey towards genuine rule of law, an independent judiciary and accountable exercise of power.

Many Pakistanis keen to participate in the long march believe they are 'on track' but they equally wish this track would have been a peaceful and unifying track. They recognise that in the face of another acute threat, the threat of terrorism, Pakistani leaders and society need to close ranks, not stand divided. That instead of abandoning the restoration movement, in which the PPP was in the forefront throughout 2007, the government would see the wisdom in settling the matter of the restoration amicably. Instead, the government has wished it away through clever-by-half moves. Fresh appointments were made instead of restoration. And some judges were refused even fresh appointments. The Nov 3 move continues to be deemed legal. Politicians are calling for a revolution while the government is accusing them of potential treason. The long march is another assertion of what Pakistanis believe to be a crucial fact that there can be No Democracy With Destroyed Judiciary.

No comments:

Post a Comment