My choice today: Saturday 14 June 2008

Tuk tuk deedam, dam na kasheedam: Long March – Irshad Ahmed Haqqani

The drop scene of the Long March – Imtiaz Alam

The Long March and the parliamentary politicians – Abdul Qadir Hasan

40,000 gather as long march reaches Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: Over 40,000 lawyers, political workers and members of civil society converged on Parade Avenue, the culmination point of the long march, at 2am on Saturday.

According to initial estimates, 20,000 activists were participating in the long march, which reached Rawalpindi at 2pm, while 20,000 others were awaiting them at Parade Avenue, where a large stage had been installed for speeches. Accompanying the lawyers were members of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Jamaat-e-Islami and Tehreek-e-Insaaf.

Around 6,000 paramilitary troops and police were deployed ahead of the arrival of the lawyers, with military helicopters flying low over them. Authorities used barbed wire and shipping containers to block the parliament building and stationed armoured personnel vehicles at several points. The administrations of both Islamabad and Rawalpindi fully co-operated with the participants of the long march and no untoward incident occurred. irfan ghauri and aamir yasin

Meandering Long March

Despite Aitzaz Ahsan’s histrionics, one shouldn’t carry the analogy of Mao Tse Tung’s Long March too far because in it only a fraction of the marchers managed to survive. But the lawyers’ growing political baggage is making the original “legalistic” camel lurch a little. Some observers of the lawyers’ passage in Lahore say the Long March was “hijacked” by the PMLN and its leader Mr Nawaz Sharif who used the occasion at Azadi Chowk at the Minar-e Pakistan in Lahore to whip up his by-election campaign too. The public meeting was a PMLN success. What swelled the crowd was the “bandobast” for the fiery speech that Mr Sharif made on that occasion. The lawyers probably wouldn’t have wanted it, but the Long March in Punjab helped in rounding up support for PMLN in the forthcoming by-elections. It was remarked that by facilitating the chief justice the party had “established that it is the real force behind the lawyers’ movement”; the additional benefit was that it “successfully used the lawyers’ long march and the judges’ reinstatement issue to mobilise its workers for the coming by-elections in Lahore”. Thursday evening’s reception for the chief justice was organised at the venue that falls in the National Assembly (NA) constituencies NA-119 and NA-123 where Nawaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz are contesting the elections. Mr Sharif actually told the crowds that he needed their help in the by-polls campaigning because he was too busy campaigning for the lawyers. The deposed chief justice didn’t mind because he was getting a political boost from the occasion, but quite clearly he was projected as part of the developing polarity in the system. The lawyers Mr Sharif is boosting make no bones about their opposition to the PPP government which wants to modify the original lawyers’ demand in order to retain the PCO-2007 judges along with the PCO-2000 ones.

It is interesting that only one TV channel on Thursday dared to say that the lawyers’ movement was thin on the ground and ran the risk of being overrun by the country’s dangerously split politics. Meanwhile, the PPP was ambivalent as ever, now putting obstacles in the way of the lawyers’ march on Islamabad, now removing them and then partially retaining them. But despite this ambivalence and overt defence of the right to protest peacefully, the PPP seems determined not to give way and accept Mr Aitzaz Ahsan’s rough and ready formula of storming the citadel of the current judges and leading them out by the ear and replacing them with the old deposed ones.

If the lawyers were thin on the ground in Lahore, it is understandable. The weather is unbearably hot and the legal profession, despite its enviable district-based organisation, is spread all over Pakistan. They have to travel long distances and not all of them have air-conditioned transport. They do have “civil society” support, but this tends to be sporadic if it is not buttressed by the cadres of a political party. In Lahore on Wednesday, these cadres were more visible than civil society activists and they carried the identity markers of secular and religious parties alike and did not look like peace-loving citizens at all times. In Punjab the government is supportive and that ensures that there won’t be any trouble, but in Islamabad, with the diplomats already expressing their jitters, it can be touch and go.

The rank and file of the lawyers say they are supposed to remain gathered around the parliament in Islamabad till the judges are restored the way they want, but they have no idea how long they are prepared to stick it out. The government is making a great show of “looking after” them. The TV channels even showed the mass open-air latrines where the lawyers may relieve themselves in case they prolong their stay. The digging of the mass latrines also indicates that the government is ready to endure the lawyers’ siege if it is prolonged. But the weather is not good and tempers can flare and get out of control, especially when the APDM factions are already there to lend a helping hand.

After more than a year, the lawyers’ movement has meandered and changed from a peaceful protest to an aggressive force that can take on political baggage if this baggage promotes its campaign for the “independence of the judiciary”. The TV channels, hitting back at President Pervez Musharraf for what he did to them, have built up the lawyers and are now helping maintain the momentum through continuous coverage.

In the face of so much pressure, however, Mr Asif Zardari is like the smiling Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, here now, gone again. He does not look like a worried man at all, seemingly convinced that the storm will pass and stability will return soon. Indeed, his confidence is reflected in the simple way in which he has increased the strength of the Supreme Court from 17 to 29 by tagging a clause to the Finance Bill.

This makes his intentions abundantly clear. The old judges will return but the new judges will stay, however this is accomplished. (Daily Times)

Musharraf’s last legacy

By Syed Sharfuddin

IT is an old subcontinental proverb that an elephant costs no less than a 100,000 but a dead one costs even more. The same applies to President Musharraf. He is more important today than he was when he was combining all powers in one person — as president, chief of army staff, chief executive and the sole undisputed decision maker in Pakistan.

He was then so important that his enemies aimed thrice at his life but failed.

Today, when President Musharraf has given away most of his powers save the authority under Article 58-2 (b), which he says he has no intention of using, he appears to be even more important for the country — so important that Pakistan’s international development partners and strategic allies want to make sure that the elected government works in tandem with the president in order to complete the unfinished business of rooting out terrorism and eradicating poverty through sound economic policies and sustained political stability.

But the real reason why President Musharraf is important today is because he is the sun around which Pakistan’s small universe revolves. In an ironic way, he is the apple of the eye for the judiciary, political parties, civil society and even the Islamists. The moment President Musharraf decides to throw in the towel, the grand shows that are being staged in different parts of the country, the speeches, the street marches, numerous press briefings and last minute revelations on television screens will come to a halt.

The continuing excitement in Pakistan’s politics which is providing a smokescreen to hide the grim reality of world economic recession, rising commodity prices and a bleak investment outlook for the foreseeable future will disappear quickly like vine withering away in a rainless hot summer.

It is important to understand why President Musharraf is good for the country even if he is being called names and held responsible for every thing that went wrong in the last eight years. After all, in a dictatorship there is no such thing as a team. For as long as the King rules, there is no shortage of courtiers praising his every move and taking advantage of his favours. Once the King is deposed, all those courtiers, save a few foolish loyalists, jump the ship and join the side of the rising Regent. No wonder then that a number of retired generals who benefited under Musharraf with positions and extensions in their service are today eager to spill the beans in the name of a clear conscience.

There are also numerous well looked after politicians who are eager to leave the King’s party and join the rising powers in parliament. In this grand march of shifting opportunity, all prominent professions are on parade — politicians, military chiefs, former diplomats, lawyers, bankers, media and civil society leaders. This is the way of the world and President Musharraf should have known when he was in total control that this is how power falls.

A famous Urdu poet and writer, Ibn-e-Insha in his book Urdu ki Akhri Kitab (the Last Book of Urdu) narrates the story of an old man whose sons were very unruly and spent most of the time fighting over petty matters. He counselled them many times on the advantages of being a united family but they never reformed. When on his deathbed, the old man asked his sons to fulfil his last wish. They started quarrelling with each other on whether their father should be allowed to make a wish. What if he asked for something impossible!

After exhaustive discussions, they agreed. The dying father asked them to bring him some wooden sticks that he wanted tied together with a rope. This led to a near riot. Finally, the eldest son said to his siblings: our father is dying; let us do it for him one last time. At last better sense prevailed and they tied the sticks together with a rope. When the old man, who was by then too close to death, asked them to break this bundle the sons unanimously declared their father insane. There was no argument this time. They all said to their father; forget it sir; we have unanimously agreed to ignore your last wish. The old man was contented and died happily in the knowledge that he had finally succeeded in uniting his sons even if the price was his own humiliation at the consensus on his insanity.

If Ibn-i-Insha were alive today, he would agree that President Musharraf is like that old father who is on his way out, yet he is making every effort to keep all the disparate groups, political parties, civil society, media and people of various dispensation in Pakistan — whether they were his supporters or critics — united over their dislike for him. Some of them want to see him resign as president immediately.

Others are united in the belief that he must be held accountable for overthrowing a democratically elected government and undermining an important institution of state. Still some more want him to be accountable for the hard strategic decisions that were taken during the last eight plus years, costing precious lives in Kargil, Balochistan, North Waziristan and Lal Masjid operations. Whatever their gripe, they are united in their hatred for Musharraf. As long as he is in office as president, the nation stands united — even archrival political parties whose leaders suffered so much at each others’ hands have decided to ignore their half healed wounds. They have become brothers just to take on Musharraf.

This is a great achievement for a man who said in 1999 that the army intervened in the political process because the politicians did not play their cards right. Musharraf said the political institutions were underperforming, inefficient and corrupt; political parties were at each others’ throats; the opposition pleaded with the army chief in every government to overthrow a working prime minister. By keeping them united and not making any mistakes this time, Musharraf’s presence has acted as a catalyst for respect, tolerance and liberal traditions among the political parties in order to reinforce democracy and political ascendancy over the institutions of state. But will this survive his exit whenever it takes place? (Dawn)

The writer is a former special adviser for political affairs in the Commonwealth Secretariat, London.

Nawaz approved Kargil ‘misadventure’: new book

* Book claims Rabbani offered 0.5m Afghans for ‘Kashmir jihad’

LAHORE: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief and former premier Nawaz Sharif was aware of the situation in Kargil in 1999 through the then defence secretary who had been briefed on the situation, a new book on the Pakistan Army has quoted a senior army official as saying.

The book, ‘Crossed Swords’, by former army chief Asif Nawaz’s brother Shuja Nawaz, quotes Lieutenant General Khawaja Ziauddin as saying that Nawaz was “in the loop”. Quoting excerpts, The Hindustan Times said on Friday that if the account were correct, it conflicted with Nawaz’s denials that he was not aware of what Musharraf and his generals had planned during Kargil. “It backs Musharraf’s contention that ‘everyone was on board’ the Kargil misadventure,” the report adds.

Shuja’s interview with Ziauddin, who was Inter-Services Intelligence boss during Kargil, also reveals that Mullah Muhammad Rabbani, the Afghan president in 1999, offered Pakistan 500,000 Afghan ‘volunteers’ for the Kashmir ‘jihad’. (daily times monitor)



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