The never-ending march – by Mosharraf Zaidi

In September last year, I wrote that the heroic nature of the chief justice’s courage, and the lawyers’ movement that it spawned could only be transformational if it inspired political action that was rooted in the same principles, and blessed with the same righteous spine as the movement itself.

Some will mistake the Nawaz League and the Imran Khan League (not to mention the sad and fading Jamaat-e-Islami) as having been the core of such political action. Others will make the even greater mistake of associating the heart of the movement that has ostensibly met with success as being a victory of Pakistan’s opposition political parties.

The truth is that the political parties, whether it was the PPP and the ANP in 2007, or the PML-N and the Great Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf in 2009 were leveraging a people’s movement that was at its core and its periphery a product of the single most impressive and successful social mobilisation effort in Pakistan’s history.

The primary reason the lawyers’ movement has met with success in its quest to reinstate the chief justice is that the movement was in the right, it had an infinite supply of moral capital. The movement’s moral superiority was too much to resist. Even the pathetic and cancerous cynicism of the PPP extremists who last week were suggesting that the lawyers’ movement was a right-wing conspiracy, never laid a finger on the morality of the movement. Many have unkind things to say about the chief justice’s person, but nobody ever argued that he did not deserve to be the chief justice. His sacking was a moral wrong, and it was a wrong that violated not only the constitution, or Ali Ahmed Kurd’s sensibilities, it was a wrong that violated this nation so utterly and so brazenly that it created a wildfire of public opinion that was favourable to the reinstatement of Chaudhry Iftikhar as the chief justice — all other factors notwithstanding.

Purists will be outraged, but it is probably true, that for all its momentum, its moral uprightness, its discipline and its peaceful nature, the movement has benefitted from the endorsement of the Sharif family. Pakistan’s only real political dynasty after the assassination of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto invested itself heavily in the movement, and both the movement and the family have benefitted to varying degrees. So too have the otherwise politically irrelevant Jamaat — adding a hint of aggression wherever they were present in the long march, and demonstrating how truly out of touch the middle class right wing in this country really is.

The political action that will enable the movement to be truly transformational however is not the kind that the current political spectrum is capable of producing. That kind of political action will only be undertaken by the young men and women who poured million of rupees in unearned High Court fees into the movement, poured millions of man-hours planning and arranging the long march, poured their hearts, minds, souls and bodies into the single-point agenda of restoring the chief justice. Those young men and women — lawyers, students, and activists — are un-invested in Pakistani politics and therefore, strangely apolitical. Pakistan’s transformation into a country where the high morals of a courageous and heroic chief justice leads to a court, prosecution and police system that protects the weak and punishes the guilty depends on political action by these young men and women.

As a social, economic and political collective, this cohort of young men and women, represents the new Pakistan. They are urban, educated, sophisticated, principled and at their core, middle class. Their distance from mainstream politics is not a sign of their disability to engage with realpolitik, but in fact a symbol of their rejection of politics that is motivated by patronage, depends on family, and exploits ethnicity and religion in the worst ways possible. This is the Pakistani You Tube generation, and they are fundamentally incapable of “becoming like them” — which is why they will stay out of politics. And this will be death for the higher goals and aspirations of the movement.

One of the principal motivating factors for many young people to join the movement was the simple premise that if the highest judge in the land can be summarily thrown out of his office, manhandled by the police, incarcerated in his home and be slime-balled by the PML-Q’s image goons, then forget the little people, the villagers, the fishermen, and farmers — even the BMW and Blackberry crowd is not safe. Indeed nobody is.

This law-of-jungle aura surrounding the chief’s dismissal was a warning for Pakistan to awaken from its slumber and to stand up and say: “No you can’t”. By the morning of March 16, outside the chief justice’s house, left was marching with right, right was dancing with left, and the soft chewy centre of Pakistan was awash in the feeling that their country is not entirely without a pulse. That the realm of the possible in this country is as wide, wild and wonderful as anywhere else, and that there is some reward for moral uprightness here.

That feeling is priceless in a country that is still overrun by security, economic, social and political problems. None of its problems are small. Each one is existential and each one requires an intergenerational effort. There is ultimately only one kind of politician that can resolve these challenges. It is the kind of politician that exists on the periphery of the PPP and the PML-N — like Sherry Rehman (a lot more heroic now than ever before) who finally demonstrated who she really was with her resignation — an act of unprecedented moral clarity and coherence, and like Ahsan Iqbal, who demonstrates every time he speaks, that this country is perfectly capable of producing articulate and believable spokespersons.

But Sherry and Ahsan — God bless them both — are not going to overhaul their respective political parties. The next major leader in the PPP will not be someone with a mind and tongue as golden as Ms Rehman’s. It will be a Bhutto. The next major leader in the PML-N will not be someone with an Ivy League degree, and an aura of mard-e-momin, it will be someone with the last name Sharif.

Which is why Pakistan’s young lawyers, students and activists have a responsibility to keep walking on, and on, and on, and on. And at some point during this longest of marches, each one of them will have to engage politically with this country in a uniquely moral way — never compromising on principles, never giving in to illegitimate authority, and always speaking truth to each other and to power. When they do engage, they will find a lot of heartbreak and very little joy. On average, 53 in 60 of them will be co-opted by the irresistible pull of the state and the pomp and circumstance it rewards to those that choose to “dance”.

They will find that the project of transforming Pakistan is a long and thankless job, where even the chief justice will make critical mistakes (like ordering the Election Commission to merge its clean voters’ list with the 2002 list). They will find that the American government just doesn’t get it, as Richard Holbrooke demonstrated so vividly on Pakistan’s Subh-e-Nau, by praising President Zardari’s ‘statesmanship’. They will find that reforming the justice sector beyond new buildings for courts and cars for judges requires decades of intense nitpicking and technical excellence. Most of all they will find that victories are few, and far apart, and will often be stolen right from under their noses. And that fighting back for them is a moral responsibility not to be shirked.

But the Pakistani elite should make no mistake, and Pakistan’s British and American friends, both knee-deep in Pakistan’s problems, should stop making mistakes. There is a new, uncompromising, and un-purchasable player on the scene. It will take months, if not years, to mature fully. But this player has begun its long and never-ending march to rebuilding the dysfunctional Pakistani state. And it all began when an ordinary judge showed extraordinary courage, and said: “No you can’t”. (The News,
Tuesday, March 17, 2009).

The writer is an independent political economist.