Mar 18, 2009

A victory for the nation and for justice

Shireen M Mazari
The direct nation-state confrontation that began with the start of the Pakistani people's long march for the restoration of the constitutional Chief Justice and an independent judiciary ended in a state of national jubilation on March 16 as the prime minister announced the use of his executive authority to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The nation had cause to celebrate since it defied all pressures from within the country and from our external so-called allies. The US especially had sought to push the defiant political leaders into accepting unacceptable compromises and trusting the tried, tested and found wanting leadership of the country. Now the US may put any spin on the issue it wants but the fact of the matter is that the people of Pakistan led by the lawyers and critically supported by some of the main political parties defied the state and its foreign detractors to secure a victory for justice. There is much talk of the army leadership compelling the political leaders to move in the right direction as well as the US and Britain goading the politicians into compromising their zero-sum postures. But what seems to have been forgotten is why were these centres of power pushing the government especially into "doing the right thing" once the defiance of the PML-N leadership had become clear – that was the power of the people who refused to back down from their long march and dharna despite the impending use of force that was put on show. So let us see March 16 as a victory of the people of Pakistan.However, efforts to undermine that victory have not stopped. The notification that was expected on March 16 for the restoration of the deposed judges had still to come out by the morning of March 17. Some questions were also being asked about the restoration of the chief justice and other judges without restoration of the November 2 judiciary. A dampener was also the legitimation of Dogar's chief justice-ship by restoring CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry only after the former's retirement. As Aqil Sajjad put it, "the attempt is being made to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory". Even more sickening is the present PPP leadership's claims to having lived up to its signed commitments to restore the CJP! Clearly the nation is being regarded as almost imbecilic since it is being told in all seriousness that President Zardari actually intended to restore Iftikhar Chaudhry all along! If the people were prepared to fight the state to have their long march and dharna they are certainly not fooled by the nauseating statements coming forth from the president and his minions. But the nation is busy celebrating the success of its determination against all odds and can afford to ignore the shenanigans of the presidential apologists. However, once the euphoria dies down and life confronts reality again, the contradictions will surface. But this time there is the hope of knocking at the doors of the superior judiciary and actually expecting to get justice. That is why the long-suffering but indefatigable Amina Janjua had a broad smile on her weary face on March 16 and that is why so many ordinary Pakistanis had made their way from across the land to the capital for what was to be a dharna but turned into a national celebration. There were the people from South Waziristan who were brimming with tales of horror and death at the hands of the US drones and there were people from southern Punjab whose lives had become hell as a result of the "thana-kutchery" culture that envelops rural Punjab and there were always the families of the "disappeared" Pakistanis – all these dispossessed people saw a hope of a new beginning in the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.Of course, it is a heavy burden for one man to shoulder but it is not really a question of an individual but of the symbol that he has become. What will make the difference is that under his leadership the judiciary can find the strength to assert its independence at all levels – especially at the grassroots where effectively there is no provision of justice by the state. If the people of Swat sought the return of the Qazi courts, it was not without reason. If we are to avoid repeats of Swat then the state had better deliver. Meanwhile, let our foreign detractors realise that at the end of the day there is no standing in the way of a people determined to fight for what it believes in. While the nation was focused on the judiciary, the US was busy killing more Pakistanis in FATA as well as trying to sabotage the peace deal in Bajaur. The nation needs to deal with these foreign elements seeking to write foreign blueprints for our state and society. While the nation was showing its strength, the foreign media and foreign governments saw Pakistani people power as a sign of Pakistan on the brink or of actually collapsing. Wishful thinking on their parts given that the long march was a resurgence of this nation. What chaos there was, was created by the government itself with efforts to deny the people their democratic expression of dissent. If one is to believe the unbelievable – that Zardari and his PPP intended to restore the chief justice all along, why was the need felt to cause chaos and misery to the people through confiscation of containers and sealing off of the cities, not to mention the use of teargas, stones, and batons by the police against an unarmed populace? But it really does not matter for the rulers stand exposed and the nation has discovered its own strength if it is determined to fight for what it believes in. There are still many challenges confronting this nation – not only in the judicial context but also on many fronts. We still have to fight the continuing destabilisation of the country by the US with its killings in FATA. We still have a problem of terrorism that has changed qualitatively as a direct result of our state's alliance with the US in its military agenda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is the evil of religious extremism that is eroding at the tolerant Islamic ethos of traditional Pakistan on the one hand, and the growing extremism of the westernised elite on the other, both reducing the space for moderates and acceptance of "the other". We continue to have the threat of an ever more belligerent Indian state on our eastern border, now with a covert presence on our western border also. The issue of our nuclear assets continues to crop up conveniently in the west every time there is political protest in Pakistan. And, amid all these problems, there is the growing misery of the ordinary Pakistani in the face of rising costs of mere existence.But the first battle has been won and we can seek to address some of these issues through judicial redress. As for the coming battles, the democratic political space for dissension has been secured by the people. Another ray of hope is the new political awareness amongst the youth who joined the long marchers and brought with them an unbridled fervour oblivious to the hazards of fighting state power. Perhaps the most heartening factor has been the recognition by the people that they can assert their agenda even if the state and external powers resist or try to undermine this assertion. Now perhaps the State can learn from this and evolve the ability to say "no" to foreign powers like the US who are killing our people using our territory and our military resources and thereby destabilising our polity. Or perhaps the people will have to take a lead on that count also especially with the judicial hope that is now rekindled.Finally, after witnessing the container-communication blockage drama of the government, we should now accept that our leadership may be suffering from a collective case of Akrasia – which is a recognised psychological condition defined as "the state of acting against one's better judgement". There is a debate that has been going on since the time of Plato as to what causes this – whether it is a weakness of will or the reverse. Whatever the cause, we need to find a cure before such akratic behaviour destroys this nation.

No comments:

Post a Comment