Mar 9, 2009

To the barricades! To the barricades!

Euripides said: “Whom the Gods destroy, they first make mad.” Just when you think our situation couldn’t possibly get worse, Mr Asif Ali Zardari manages to get it down another notch. Wednesday, Feb 25, 2009, will be remembered as a day of infamy in the history of Pakistan. On that day, Mr Zardari committed an egregious folly. He exploited the power of his office to overturn the express will of millions of people in Punjab and stabbed Pakistan’s fledging democracy in the back. Consequent upon the highly controversial decision of the Supreme Court, declaring Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif ineligible to contest elections or hold public offices, he, illegally, imposed Governor’s Rule in Punjab – a decision that has plunged Pakistan into deeper political turmoil as it grapples with an escalating insurgency. Today, say Pakistan and what comes to mind: anarchy within, irresistible pressure from without, a country cracking up under outside pressure, a proxy war, pervasive fear and sabotage. Perhaps no place on earth more closely resembles Hobbes’s description of a state of nature in which life is “nasty, brutish and short.” I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, that Pakistan is on the edge of the abyss. There is an element of dread in the air. Today Pakistan is trembling with anxiety about its future. Against this grim backdrop, Mr Zardari’s ascension to power has caused panic among the people. Thrown there by accident, he is grotesquely unsuited for his new position. With General Musharraf’s exit, we thought we had reached the summit. Alas! After two years of hard struggle, we are back to square one, like Sisyphus, whose punishment in Hades was to push uphill a huge boulder only to have it tumble down again. On March 9, 2007, a judicial earthquake remade the political terrain. From that day and from that place (Army House), began a new epoch in the history of Pakistan. It was a painful day for anyone who wore the nation’s uniform or who wanted to be proud of the Pakistani army. On that day, General Musharraf made a fatal move against Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Napoleon needed the Terror, Caesar needed the Gallic Wars, Churchill needed the Nazis, and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry needed General Musharraf to be raised to the greatness each achieved. All revolutions need a symbolic beginning. In France, it was the storming of the Bastille. In Russia, it was the capture of the Winter Palace. In the United States of America, Rose Louise Parks made history by refusing to give up her seat on the Cleveland Avenue bus to a white man. Her courageous act touched off a 381-day boycott of the city’s bus system, led by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., and is now considered the beginning of the American civil rights movement. With her simple act of courage, she changed history. All that Chief Justice Iftikhar did was to refuse to resign and decide to fight back and defend himself. With that he changed the course of Pakistan’s history. March 9 also saw the return of political passions which had long been dormant. This was the moment when Pakistan lifted its head and began to fight back against the military ruler. The Bar and the Bench joined hands, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, and triggered a revolution. The presence of thousands of enthusiastic lawyers and members of civil society on the Constitution Avenue, protesting against the suspension of the Chief Justice and demanding his reinstatement, supremacy of the Constitution, independence of the judiciary, rule of law, was indeed exhilarating. They are not led by political leaders. Their struggle is not a contest for power. It is an unprecedented struggle, with Chief Justice Iftikhar as its symbol, to challenge despotism and restore the independence of the judiciary and rule of law. While political leaders are dithering, the Bar and the Bench are making history. Today, they are, in the words of Marx, the bulldozer of History and are writing a page of history that will be read and admired by their children and their children. A window of hope has opened for Pakistan. Few persons but those who were present on Constitution Avenue could comprehend how it galvanised everybody and rekindled hope. Today the good news is that General Musharraf has been hounded out of office and thrown into the dustbin of history. The bad news is that Mr Zardari, his democratic successor, seems to have entered into a Faustian bargain with General Musharraf to pursue his agenda. God protect us all.Here in the Capital, a sense of high intensity chaos prevails. Islamabad is once again preparing for a showdown. The stage is set for a collision between those who are fighting for the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhary and Rule of Law and those who represent the forces of darkness and oppose them. In this Manichean struggle, you are either with the people or against them. You have to choose sides. To march at their head and lead them? To stand behind them, ridiculing and criticizing them? To stand opposite them and oppose them? Every citizen is free to choose among the three; but by force of circumstances they are all fated to make their choice quickly. Well countrymen, we must hang together or we shall assuredly hang separately.For members of the intelligentsia living under this authoritarian regime, not to be politically rebellious is, in my view, a moral abandonment of their social post. Members of civil society - doctors, engineers, journalists, writers, academia, civil servants, must be implacable opponents of despotism. People detest those who remain passive, who keep silent and love only those who fight, who dare. It is as simple as that. Mr. Asif Ali Zardari’s Presidency is condemned to infamy. That is for sure. He has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. He alone is responsible for the mess we are in today because it is he who drives the train. Why not reinstate the deposed Judges, repeal the 17th amendment and restore the statusquo ante? Why not make this long traumatized country normal again? Let Pakistan be Pakistan again. Let it be the dream it used to be, a dream that is almost dead today. It is time to turn the page. The time to hesitate is through. This is a moment of great hope for Pakistan. Don’t let it turn into a national nightmare. There is no half-way house. As we approach the endgame, the nation has to decide between two conceptions of politics, two visions for our country, two value systems, two very different paths: democracy or dictatorship, confrontation or collaboration. One man, one man alone, is responsible for the mess we are in today. At this time, all those who see the perils of the future, whatever their political orientation, must draw together to pull our country back from the edge of the abyss. We need to reinvent Pakistan. Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward. If we do not act, and act now, the mess we are in will get even bigger, deeper and taller. We are standing on a “burning platform”. If we don’t work quickly to extinguish the blaze, the country and all of us in it would sink into the sea. 200 years ago, America faced the same problem as we do today. “Our worst danger”, Hamilton warned, “comes from dependent Judges. We ought to resist, resist, till we hurl the tyrants from their imagined thrones”. The lesson of history is never flinch, never weary, never despair, if your cause is just. Citizens! To the barricades! To the barricades!
By Roedad Khan

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