Some critical reflections on Long March – 14 March 2009

Long March reflections

After a dominance of repeated patterns, most opinion about the Long March, which began on Thursday, is philosophical rather than analytical-practical. There is also a tendency to theorise, which is natural when patterns are repeated. As anticipated, some analysts are questioning the fundamentals attached to the birth and growth of political parties in Pakistan. They have developed a dispassionate view of Pakistan’s bipartisan system and are musing about the determinism of the conduct of the PPP and the PMLN while regretting that there is no “alternative” to these brawling entities.

There is also some editorial musing about truth itself. Who is in possession of the truth? Who is right in this fight and who is clearly wrong? Politicians who come on TV to present their opposed points of view are hardly convincing. They are in fact irritating because of their lack of resourcefulness while marshalling arguments, and their tendency to shout and interrupt each other. The lawyers are the only purely moral force and should clearly be in possession of the truth because their movement is a civil society movement. But it is unfair to always expect pure intellectualism from them; they become emotional in defence of their truth and end up clothing it with doctrinal certainties that are poison for politics. Clash, not compromise, comes out of all doctrine. In politics however there is no truth; there is just political polarisation.

It has been noted that the Long March is going well in Punjab, but not so well in Sindh and Balochistan. It may not also engage the NWFP as deeply as it has the lawyers and party workers of Punjab. But the media has seen to it that the government gets a bad name, with the spectacle of the police attacking the long-marchers brought to every home in the country, bringing back memories of the past when protests were suppressed through state power in violation of the democratic right to protest peacefully. Yet we all know the purpose of protest is to make the government trip up, and the only way to get that reaction is to make the protest violent. If protest is peaceful it doesn’t trigger the kind of change that the politicians want.

A section of the media wants to flog a rift in the PPP government. It says Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is about to stage his own revolt against an increasingly autocratic President Asif Ali Zardari, removing Governor’s Rule in Punjab through the withdrawal of his earlier consent, announcing the restoration of the fired judges, and allowing the PMLN government to be restored in Punjab after removing the legal curbs on the Sharifs through an act of parliament. Mr Nawaz Sharif takes this seriously and has added his own voice to the appeal that the prime minister should take the brave step against his own party in the National Assembly.

There is no doubt, however, that Prime Minister Gilani’s approach is moderate and reconciliatory, but it may be too excessive to assume that he is in a state of revolt. The PPP is not a party where you can stage an internal revolt successfully. Even the PMLN, where rebellions have been frequent in the past, a “moderate” Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had to keep a low profile while an “excessive” Mr Nawaz Sharif was prime minister. It is only after Mr Sharif left “without consulting” a whole lot of PMLN top leadership that Chaudhry Shujaat decided to part ways safely. Mr Gilani is not the sort of man who would risk a good career in the PPP and hope to get a leg-up in the PMLN if he fails.

One last point. The media says a reconciliation formula is gaining credibility because it has the backing of Mr Gilani. It is also trying to give the impression that there is a rift between Mr Gilani and President Zardari. This is simply not true in any significant sense. Also, there are many problems in the reconciliation formulae and it will take a fair amount of time before anything concrete comes to fruition on this score. So we should not raise our hopes too much on this front.\03\14\story_14-3-2009_pg3_1

Marching for right reasons!
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Saad Humayun

A grand showdown between the government and the lawyers along with the opposition parties is just around the corner as the lawyers pull up their socks for the long march and the Sharif brothers rehearse their freestyle rhetoric in fiery speeches, whilst calling for a rebellion. The two brothers after having been ‘betrayed’ and stabbed in the back by President Asif Zardari have now launched an all-out assault against the president. However, it was not so up until the Supreme Court’s decision to declare them ineligible for contesting elections. That seemed to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The Sharif brothers are now bringing realpolitik back with a vengeance. Shahbaz Sharif has called for an all-out rebellion inviting the public to join the march to a revolution.

While the PML-N may have considerable street power and the abilities to stir up emotions, critics argue that they do not wield enough power and influence to bring the government down. But then again the PML-N is not the only party to have thrown its weight behind the lawyers’ movement for an ‘independent judiciary’. The principled Imran Khan too is anxious to march up to Constitution Avenue along with his APDM buddy Qazi Hussain Ahmed from the Jamaat-e-Islami. So if you thought this year’s long march will be no different than last year’s, then think again. This year’s long march and dharna are more power-packed and promises a lot more than last time, certainly something you wouldn’t want to miss out on. More vociferous lawyers and civil society members, shouting at the top of their lungs, more rhetoric from Nawaz Sharif and Ali Ahmed Kurd and of course more hip-shaking rhymes from veteran Aitzaz Ahsan.

And if the sit-in goes well there may be some action too! Apart from the event itself, the various fallouts as a result of the dharna will be even more interesting to witness given the possibilities being discussed in the media. The wildest being that President Zardari bows down to the pressure and restores Iftikhar Chaudhry as the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. While the former outcome may be Nawaz Sharif’s dream come true, the more probable one involves the penguins and the brethren being driven away by the police and the rangers, which will inevitably lead to violence. The third outcome involves the Sharif brothers’ wildest dream coming true, i.e. the long march and the Dharna succeed in either toppling or weakening the government so that demands for mid-term elections emerge.

Given the possible fallouts one would certainly not want to miss out on something this grand. The media will be all over it broadcasting every second ‘live’, but that doesn’t come anywhere close to the real anything. And that’s probably the best reason to join the march because this whole movement has little to do with an independent judiciary. The arguments being put forth by the lawyers and the Sharif brothers are weak in essence. The lawyers have reservations against the judges that have taken oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). They call them ‘fake judges’ when in fact Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was one of the first judges to take oath under the PCO in January 2000. However, the lawyers insist on letting the bygones be bygones and demand that the judiciary be restored as it was on November 2, 2007.

The question is that if they want to purge the courts of PCO judges then why must Iftikhar Chaudhry be any exception? Besides, one must realise that this whole movement has been deeply politicised to an irreversible extent and that seriously undermines the impartiality of Iftikhar Chaudhry, if he is restored as the chief justice.

The lawyers’ community and the Sharif brothers have taken it upon themselves to filter good judges from bad ones, independent judges from partisans. One cannot help but ask who they are to judge who is impartial and who is not. In effect the Sharif brothers want to discredit and expel all the judges who accepted the second PCO whilst letting the oath takers of the first PCO off the hook. What could be more biased? Why the double standards? If they deem the PCO to be the deciding factor when it comes to reinstatement then why not demand the restoration of former chief justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui instead of Iftikhar Chaudhry? After all Siddiqui was in fact the last chief justice to have taken oath under the 1973 constitution. Also, on May 13, 2000, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was one of the 12 Supreme Court judges who validated the military coup of General Pervez Musharraf. They ruled that the removal of the elected government of Nawaz Sharif was legal on the basis of the ‘doctrine of necessity’. What then is the point of touting him as the beacon of an independent judiciary?

Last but not least, one wonders why Nawaz Sharif is championing the cause of an independent judiciary when his party scaled the walls of the Supreme Court of Pakistan forcing the then chief justice, Sajjad Ali Shah, to resign. Has Sharif repented for his sins in Makkah and promised to make amends? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry ruled in favour of allowing the Sharif brothers to return from exile.

Pakistani politics has a history whereby those in power have handpicked their own chief justices to their liking. How do we know if Nawaz Sharif really wants an independent judiciary and not just a favourable and compliant judiciary that will go after the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) whereby all cases against Asif Zardari were dropped and he was allowed to run for office?

The unanswered questions and the obvious signs make it clear that there are significant grey areas to the lawyers’ movement that undermine the genuineness of the movement. So, if you feel like witnessing yet another exciting episode of political drama, possibly some action and just maybe history in the making then go ahead, hit the road and join the lawyers’ gang. At least you’ll be doing it for all the right reasons!

The writer works for Geo TV. Email:

The sound and the fury

—Salman Tarik Kureshi

The long-marching Lawyers’ Movement, as it now remains, is little more than a right-wing rump of what it was. Of the two major political parties, the PPP runs a government that grows weaker by the day, the PMLN is ruled by the slogan-spouting Sharifs

The Leader of the Masses addresses his followers, stirring them to revolutionary ferment by the inspirational quality of his rhetoric. “Revolt,” he urges them, “Bring about this Revolution.”

Revolution? Against which powerful tyranny? Which oppressive dictatorship? That of President Zardari? Oh, please! This society is riddled with appalling injustices and the most vicious forms of exploitation. One can only wish Mr Sharif would stop wagging that threatening forefinger from behind his bullet-proof rostrum (set well back from his adoring crowds) and spouting such absurdly inflammatory rhetoric.

This scribe is one of those who have repeatedly criticised the injustices visited upon Mr Sharif and his party and who have upheld their democratic rights in print. Somebody needs to point out to him that his present fulminations are not unlike the noisy expostulations of a spoiled child deprived of his toys. This kind of uncompromising bombast, allowing even its author no wriggle room, is certainly not the language of any kind of responsible political personage. These are the words (to borrow from the Bard of Avon) of “a poor player, who struts and frets his hour upon the stage…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

But let us leave Mr Sharif, as well as his nemesis President Zardari, for the present. Is there indeed some kind of revolution stirring in the country? A couple of years ago, I wrote in these pages:

“History is not a series of random incidents or a chronicle of the doings of monarchs and presidents. History is driven by titanic forces that may, at times, create political earthquakes or, at other times, erupt in a huge, slow but irresistible flow of lava from beneath the surface.

“One such ‘political earthquake’ [and that is the context in which I was writing] was that epic day earlier this summer when Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, accompanied by Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, drove very slowly from Islamabad to Lahore. We all saw it on our TV screens. We observed that most immense of the forces known to history emerging from the homes, the villages, towns and cities of our country in the turbulence of Justice Chaudhry’s passage: People Power. We saw, in the words Christopher Caudwell used in 1936, shortly before he was killed fighting in a revolution, ‘the movement of masses, the beginning of good’.”

There were few, I imagine, of those who watched their TV sets that day who were unshaken by the magnitude of what they saw, whichever point of view they chose to adopt in its regard. This was the immense, slow force of the people — the most primal of the historical forces.

Let us be clear. The goal of what came to be called the Lawyers’ Movement at that time was not merely to get Chief Justice Chaudhry’s job back. It was the people’s need for justice that was perceived as prime. The common man in our villages and mohallas faces tyranny and injustice every day — from the police sergeant, the patwari, and the petty government clerk on the one hand; and from the local street toughs, landowners, and labour contractors on the other. The ordinary Pakistani citizen, even more than you and I of the so-called gentry, craves institutionalised justice and wishes to bring about the rule of law, in whatever sophisticated or unsophisticated terms this may be perceived.

The people who flocked from their homes and businesses in the towns and hamlets along the road did so to honour a courageous man of principle and to demonstrate that they shared his desire to institute the rule of law in the country. That journey of Justice Chaudhry’s came to be a peaceful but strong demonstration of the will of the people, whose colossal power we all perceived. And the personage of Justice Chaudhry came to symbolise that power: the power to bring about a seismic shift in our political fortunes.

It is here that we come to the nub of the issue. No amount of restoration of judges to office, no amount of safeguarding of legal procedure, no amount of speeches at bar councils, will serve to bring about and consolidate the rule of law. That project requires a fundamental revolution, from top to bottom of our elite-ridden society. That, dear reader, is by its nature a political project.

And a political project of this nature and magnitude requires a political organisation to bring it about.

At one time, quite early in the life of the Lawyers’ Movement, the possibility of converting the movement into a political party was considered and even consciously discussed across the country. Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan will probably recall what I refer to. But, for whatever reason, it did not happen.

Since then, much has happened, many events have occurred and much blood has flowed down the Indus. We have seen our best-known political personality assassinated. We have seen the rebirth of democracy, however flawed, and the revival of the people’s will. We have relished watching the arrogant pomposity of our most self-obsessed military dictator deflated as the nation swept away his policies and his favourites at the polls. We have seen the rapid spread of the violent insurgency that this very dictator had permitted to find space and breeding ground. We have seen terrorist violence spread through our land and beyond our borders. We have witnessed unspeakable barbarities visited on our fellow citizens by cruel savages defying the state of Pakistan while we expostulated about ‘sovereignty’.

Today, most of the illegally removed judges have been restored…except Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. But, I need to repeat, the issue never was one of reinstatement. It was an enormous protest against the absence of the rule of law.

The rule of law remains absent today and none is presently seeking to build it. The long-marching Lawyers’ Movement, as it now remains, is little more than a right-wing rump of what it was. Of the two major political parties, the PPP runs a government that grows weaker by the day, the PMLN is ruled by the slogan-spouting Sharifs.

Certainly, neither of these will spearhead the major project of institutionalising and building the Rule of Law in Pakistan. Where should the people look?

The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet.\03\14\story_14-3-2009_pg3_5