Mar 14, 2009

Long march--March in March

Governments have never been able to stop determined long marchers. Three hundred thousand Estonians did nothing but sing patriotic songs. Red Army's T-34 tanks couldn't stop Estonians from singing. Teargas, rubber batons, light shells, noise shells and water-jet cannons. The Soviet Armed Forces, arguably the second-most powerful on the face of the planet, couldn't keep these singing Estonians from what they wanted.The Kyrgyzstani long-march, the Tulip Revolution, a country where mountain tulips bloom in spring, took less than a month. On March 18, 2005, Kyrgyzstanis staged a sit-in inside the governor's office in Jalalabad. The police tried a forced eviction but failed. In Bishkek, the capital, the police baton charged demonstrators and detained newspaper columnists and writers. But, to no avail. On April 4 President Askar Akayev signed his resignation.The long march in Georgia, the Rose Revolution, began on Nov 2 and reached its pinnacle on Nov 22 when the Georgian Armed Forces refused to protect President Shevardnadze. Long marchers marched right into the assembly session with roses in their hands. On November 23, Shevardnadze resigned.The Serbian long-march, the Bulldozer Revolution, began in September 2005 and reached its peak on Oct 5 when some 800,000 protestors staged a sit-in in Belgrade (the parliament was partially burned down). Slobodan Milosevic resigned on Oct 7.In Ukraine, the Orange Revolution, 500,000 Ukrainians--dressed in orange and carrying orange flags--marched peacefully in front of the Ukrainian Parliament on Nov 23, 2004. In a little more than a month, Prime Minister Yanukovych resigned.Here's the tally on long marches: A 17-day long-march cum sit-in in Kyrgyzstan, 21 days in Georgia and 38 days in Ukraine. This is what it took.The underlying clash behind Pakistan's long march is in fact a collision between a segment of population that wants to establish "rule of law" and forces that are bent upon remaining above the law. Introducing reforms into any society means potential gainers and potential losers. If Pakistan becomes a "rule of law" state then 170 million Pakistanis stand to gain while a few thousand Pakistanis, who have benefited from keeping Pakistan away from the "rule of law," stand to lose. The established rule of thumb is that as long as potential losers of a reform package are also the principal decision-makers reform doesn't stand a chance.If we were to dissect Pakistan's long march then it has an ideological and a political component. The ideological component, now led by the strong-willed Ali Ahmad Kurd, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, known for his aggressive speeches and choreographed hand movements, is all about "rule of law." The political component, now led by Nawaz Sharif, the two-time prime minister who is married to the grandniece of "Rustam-e-Zaman Gama Pahelvan," is all about toppling President Zardari.The Zardari-Nawaz duel is purely political and political duels can never be settled through the coercive apparatus of the state. They have to be settled politically.There are two broad long-march scenarios: First, the PPP government is successful in suppressing the agitation through the coercive apparatus of the state. This success would, almost certainly, be short-lived as the government would then have to resort to increasingly repressive measures in order to contain the disorder that is bound to follow the original suppression. And, a repressive government, in this day and age, cannot last long. Second, long-march results in widespread violence and the Pak Army is forced to intervene overtly.The Pak Army is already in the arena as it does not want violence in this country. Neither does the US. Outcome of street violence is largely unpredictable. The Pak Army wants to end the uncertainty. So does the US. The Zardari-Nawaz duel must end because the only people laughing right now are anti-state militants--and the Indians.Remember, governments often fight their last battles with the media.Dr Farrukh Saleem

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