Guest blog by Kamil Hamid
While celebration is in order, the civil society movement and Pakistanis in general must understand that it is crucial this be used as a beginning for a new era of activism and the drive for justice. Sitting back at this point, and allowing “appropriate parties” to handle matters would be nothing short of disastrous.
As I write this, the general atmosphere among many of us is one of jubilance, celebrating our victory. After a two-year struggle, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry has finally been restored. Over the course of these years, Pakistan has faced some of its darkest times, the circumstances of which have still not changed greatly. We face a growing religiously motivated insurgency, not confined to the North but breaking out like an epidemic across the country. We also face a severe energy and food crisis, as well an economy that has nearly imploded; thanks largely to the reckless and irresponsible way it was handled for the past decade. Our largest city, the hub of our economy, is ruled by ethno-fascist thugs who have garnered genuine support among some of its citizens due to their frustration with the government’s lackadaisical attitude. The continual pounding of American drones on our Northwestern borders, as well as a bristling India to the East only makes matters worse.
Yet it would be incorrect to say that we have not come a long way: Musharraf has been forced out of power, and the military has been forced back into the barracks (hopefully, for the last time). A vibrant and energetic civil society has formed and proven to the world that Pakistan is not the nation of sleepers that it has often been mockingly called.
The purpose of this article, however, is not to solely dwell on what has happened, but on what may happen. More specifically, this is my input on what should happen and why. It also deals with what we, as Pakistanis must do to ensure that power remains in the hands of a legitimate civilian government that truly acts according to the wishes of the people. Clearly, I speak in highly idealistic terms here, but that is whole point: To set near-impossible high standards for Pakistanis to strive towards, so that in the process of doing so, they overcome much of what plagues the nation today.
To begin with, due credit must be given to all of us: We have successfully ensured that a crucial institution of this country has been defended and had most of its sanctity restored. I do not say all of its sanctity because of the fact that the status of Musharraf’s PCO judges is still murky at best. Abdul Hameed Dogar, it seems, will not suffer punishment for going against the constitution and becoming the Chief Justice under illegal oath. Rather, he will be retired. Hence one of our first courses of action should be to demand he be prosecuted.
Some may argue that our main goal has been accomplished in that Iftikhar Chaudry is back where he belongs, so does it really matter how Dogar leaves?
I’ll answer this by giving my own personal reason for being involved in this movement in the first place: Institutions. It is impossible to list the number of arguments I have heard against Iftikhar Chaudry, Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmed Kurd, etc. Many friends and colleagues have insisted that the aforementioned personalities are corrupt, desire their own end, etc. One basic argument, for example, is that of Iftikhar Chaudry accepting his role as the Chief Justice under the 2002 PCO. Wouldn’t this make it hypocritical, therefore, if his supporters call the 2007 PCO illegal?
While the majority of us would engage in arguments about why this is not so, and do sincerely believe that the majority of these accusations are false, we must also avoid naïveté. It would be foolish to believe that all personalities involved have only pure intentions.
This however, is NOT why our struggle was legitimate. Our goal, as Pakistanis, should be to strengthen our institutions and to draw the game of politics away from personalities to the degree in which they are entrenched. My own primary reason for supporting the likes of Aitzaz Ahsan or Iftikhar Chaudry is not because I champion them as people but because their restoration finally draws a line in the countless violations and dynastic politics that have plagued Pakistan for so long. Once this line has been drawn, a precedent can be set.
It is also highly important, in this light, that we carry on with our demands for a fully restored judiciary: One that is not expanded to accommodate Musharraf’s illegal PCO judges, but has them publicly removed from office and barred from applying again. It should also be made clear that the reason for the restoration has not been because Zardari “consented”, but because he had no choice but to do otherwise. As such, Zardari and the PPP ilk must be held accountable for their crimes and must not be allowed to use the restoration as an excuse to continue meddling in Pakistan’s politics.
This brings us to another important point: Our “allies”. Many have lauded Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, etc, for their stand. Many also sincerely believe that if Benazir Bhutto had lived, she would have ensured the judges were restored immediately.
Personally, I tend to be highly skeptical of such claims and while voicing my staunch opposition to Musharraf and the army, also acknowledge that parties such as the PPP (as we have seen), the PML-N and the PML-Q are no less corrupt. History can speak for itself here. Many of us have been asked how we can “support the PML-N” and do we “like Nawaz Sharif”?
This deserves a lengthy clarification and explanation:
Our goal, as Pakistanis, should be to strengthen our institutions and to draw the game of politics away from personalities to the degree in which they are entrenchedTo the Sharif brothers, I attribute a number of adjectives; none of which are flattering, to say the least. A few might include “Thieves”. “Crooks”. “Plunderers”. “Looters”. “Extortionists”. One may even go so far as to even call them “Murderers”.
I have had the misfortune of witnessing this depravity up close. Several years ago, some family friends incurred Shahbaz Sharif’s wrath for daring to refuse to pay him “homage”. What followed was repulsively predictable: Death threats, panic and the Sharif brothers eventually walking off with the money. The very idea of any “justice” at that time was laughable.
Many of us also know Nawaz Sharif as the self-declared “Ameer-ul-Momineen” who may well have dragged Pakistan even further down into the cesspool of religious extremism than it had been left in by Zia, had his mad bid for power not been stopped.
The same Nawaz Sharif who claims to stand for the restoration for of judiciary today is also the man who stormed and brutalized the Supreme Court when it threatened his supremacy.
When Musharraf took power, the situation had deteriorated to the point that many Pakistanis actually welcomed a military takeover. Yes, that was a mistake that we repeatedly make and subsequent lesson we never seem to learn, but the desperation for change is understandable: It was this same desperation that resulted in the likes of criminals such as Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif being reelected in 2008.
The people of Pakistan are not the dimwitted fools that they are taken for. In fact, I believe that we do ourselves a great disservice when we declare that we are hopeless- by believing so, we ensure that this actually becomes part of our identity. Pakistanis did not forget what the aforementioned parties had done in the past and what they were likely to do if reelected. Hence the Sharif brothers’ crimes were never forgotten. The PML-N’s provincialism has not been forgotten either. Betrayal by the PPP was something that only to be expected, as it has been their game all along.
This in turn, truly speaks about how much the military government was loathed and how, rather than a lack of intelligence, Pakistanis actually have faith in a democratic system and its possibilities.
Coming to the immediate present, it does seem as though, after months of waiting, the PML-N has been rewarded for its stance on the judiciary. Indeed, it is probable that the Sharif brothers planned for a scenario such as this over a year ago: They saw that the judiciary was a means to withdraw the NRO and hence oust Zardari, who would try every possible means to ensure this did not come to be. They realized that by siding with the Lawyer’s Movement and civil society in general, the PML-N would be seen as an ally and would eventually win.
Hence to conclude, we know the judiciary, justice and the sanctity of this country means nothing in truth to the PML-N (which coincidentally swelled in ranks with former PML-Q members). We also know that the leopard has not changed its spots and that the call of “Power to the People” is a façade. In other words, up to this point, the civil society movement has only been an ally because it is the perfect way to use it. The PML-N certainly needed a new image, considering its history. What has this “alliance” done but exactly that? The same can be said of the PPP which it seems, was ready to forge an alliance with whatever was left of the hated PML-Q party (and ironically, the party that was soundly beaten by the PPP), in order to bolster its numbers.
It seems, therefore, that we are trapped with bad choices on all sides.
So what do we do now?
As much as I wish the Sharif brothers would both “disappear”, it will probably be best to accept that they will have a roll to play in politics for a while to come. The PPP’s role is likely to be greatly diminished (or at least subservient to that of the PML-N’s). This is personally worrying for me solely due to the fact that, despite its corruption, the PPP can at least make the claim to being secular, while the PML-N may use the religion card to bring parties such as the MMA, etc into the fold, which is unacceptable. The goal of the civil society here is threefold:
- To ensure that the PML-N respects the sanctity of the judiciary as well as the media and other institutes, private and public. Should it hold the majority of power, the PML-N must ensure that it exercises this power within the limits set by the constitution. The movement must monitor the PML-N with sharp vigilance, scrutinizing every decision made and be ready to pounce the moment any Mushrraf or Zardari-esque politics come into play.
- To ensure that any government, PML-N lead or not, will deal with the threat of the insurgency in a genuine manner and will not allow parties such as the MMA, etc, which have previously sided with Musharraf, to gain any more power than they already possess. Personally, I believe that the peace deal only ensures that the Taliban become more deeply entrenched and that, as Tahira Abdullah has pointed out, small but important steps such as shutting down the illegal radio station used by the Taliban have not been taken by any previous governments. Therefore, this is where any new government must begin.
- That at no point is army intervention to be tolerated: If the public decides to act against the Sharif brothers, they will do so. The army however, must get used to the fact that it serves the public and not the other way round. Any attempt to seize control, therefore, will be met with ironclad resistance.
While those may be our immediate areas of concern, they do not begin to properly address the countless issues that Pakistan faces.
The greatest mistake that we can make at this point is to assume that our work is done; hence the movement is no longer needed. The battle for our nation has only begun.
What do we do next?
We fight on. We watch the judiciary with a hawk-eye fastidiousness that we have failed to apply to our institutions and politicians in the past. We ensure that our heroes REMAIN heroes and do NOT use their popularity or power for personal gain.
We put our demands forward, using the restored judiciary and maintain that, short of valid, democratic reform, nothing can interfere with the constitution. We also acknowledge that once this constitution has been restored, it can be amended (as the 1973 constitution is in no way perfect) so long as the process through which this is done is democratic.
We hone our memories and learn from history, not just Pakistani but that of the world. We learn from mistakes already made and don’t blindly rush into uncharted territory without looking at precedent. Simultaneously, we understand the important of differentiating between LEARNING from the past and LIVING in it.
Believe it or not, this is where it all starts: Our dreams of pouring resources and bringing new life to our guttering, failing healthcare and school systems only comes true if we fight tooth and nail for it. We tell the Bhuttos, Sharifs, Elahis, Hussains and countless others that we have grown sick of their power-hungry, self-centeredness and that we will not have them rule us.
Yes, it is true that dynastic politics is hardly confined to Pakistan. However, that is no excuse for allowing corruption to prevail, especially as we have seen what happens to parties in Pakistan in such circumstances.
Our goals should not stop at targeting mainstream parties either: Many of us hold views that are not in line with the larger parties’ ideology. Rather than compromising and bending our values for their sense, it is time we understood the true value (as was demonstrated in 2008) of fresh political movements, which take a departure from the tired rhetoric emanated by today’s mainstream parties.
We must continue to take to the streets and protest, but this time about issues such as our identity being hijacked by people who claim that they act in our name by strapping bombs to themselves and blowing themselves up in areas where the most people can die. We need to demand that proper action be taken against the Swat insurgency, not in the form of peace deals or military action, but infrastructure and education being provided to areas where the Taliban have become widespread thanks to their promises to the locals to provide what basic necessities the government has denied them. We also do not stop at religious militarism, but also take action against provincialism and ethno-fascism in the nation. By doing so, we will prove not only to ourselves, but also to the world, that this generation of Pakistanis is determined to bring about change and awareness in any way possible.
When it comes to advice and how to properly organize our leadership, we also turn to individuals such as Tahira Abdullah, Asma Jahangir, Pervez Hoodhboy and many other intellectuals, who have active long before many of us were born.
Using the media, our emergency email lists and other methods of mass awareness and mobilization, we speak up on issues such as minority, gender and other basic human rights in general, urging action to be taken. We demand that the government put an end to vile pieces of legislature that call for ones religious identity to be noted on one’s passport, or for us to declare that other religious groups are “false” and their beliefs, “fraudulent”. We also demand an end to the Hudood laws and many, many others that have kept Pakistani women in chains for so long.
The list could continue for all of us, but I feel that I have made my point clear: That this can, must and will not will not be the end of the extraordinary movement we have built up. The judiciary may be our vehicle towards Insaaf, yet only we, the people, can ensure that it is truly delivered to all of us. Where we go from here, is truly up to us.
Kamil can be contacted at: [email protected]