A few days hence the lawyers’ “Long March” will attempt to take Islamabad by storm, application of street power in any country’s capital as a tactical move can be quite effective. With its coalition ally governing Punjab an integral part of the “Long March,” the stakes are high. If the central government succumbs it can say goodbye to its federal authority, that perception will make Islamabad hostage in the future to whoever rules Punjab. Mian Sahib tried bottling up the PPP in Islamabad once before almost two decades ago. One is not sure about the adverse strategic implications for the lawyers should June 10 pass without restoration of the superior judiciary. Notwithstanding creating chaos and confusion, is the movement strong enough to survive failure?
Restoring the superior judiciary without constitutional cover could open a legal Pandora’s box, giving extra-constitutional forces casus belli “to save the country” for the next ten years or so. A startling threat by Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry: once restored he would personally punish those judges who took oath under PCO on Nov 3, 2008. If the person meant to ensure the rule of law and due process declares publicly he is the complainant, investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, and that also of his fellow judges, is this publicly stated vengeance different from that of “vigilante justice” being administered by street mobs? One waits with bated breath for reaction from respected Justices Fakhruddin Ebrahim, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, etc.
By clever use of propaganda, populism and street power, Adolf Hitler contrived to seize power in Germany. Conditions were made conducive by mass deprivation, unemployment, high inflation, frustration, humiliation and anger. Effective use of the media by Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels is the first case study on how to translate an electoral minority into absolute power. The downside of democracy is demagogues seldom practice what they assiduously preach. It is only a means to an end. Once in power they tend to revert to their original character, mostly for the worse! Street power for a just cause is a democratic right that must be commended, in the face of shortages of food, electricity, rising prices, unemployment, etc., are the masses convinced these are not their priorities but that the restoration of the superior judiciary is? An honest poll in the streets will tell you otherwise, the media can change perception but not facts.
Our immediate priority is national reconciliation. The perception of this we saw when Asif Zardari visited “90” in Karachi, again when an MQM delegation led by Senator Farooq Sattar called on Asfandyar Wali Khan during the ANP leader’s recent visit to Karachi. For the country and for the city of Karachi, the reconciliation process will have far-reaching favourable consequences. Despite misgivings about events like May 12, confrontation is anathema to the concept of reconciliation. Commitment to democratic principles is in recognising that everyone’s voice matters. Only the short-sighted, immature and bigoted use race (however thinly designed) as a political card.
Members of the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society are busy sharpening their bayonets for Musharraf. Lt Gen Jamshed Gulzar, a loyalist-turned-foe, was loud and clear on the electronic media. Could he have been as blunt and forthright when in service? How does one balance loyalty and discipline against conscience, and when? The Society comprises men of great integrity and immense patriotism, most have taken part in actual combat and do not talk “the big talk” only. Among them my commanding officer Brig Mohammad Taj SJ & Bar, a living hero of this Army (decorated in both 1965 and 1971), it was a privilege to serve under him as an infantry company commander during the December 1971 war in (then) West Pakistan. The commandant of the Army Aviation School, where I learnt to fly, Brig Mahmood, is a thorough professional who gave me, when I was desperate for work, my first civilian job (as a pilot) in the aviation company he was part-owner of. Gen Aslam Beg one deeply respects for many reasons, not least for turning away from ambition and choosing the democratic route when absolute power stared him in the face. Lt Gen Asad Durrani, with a fine analytical mind, is perhaps one of the best intelligence officers this army has ever produced. A brilliant professional soldier and another former ISI chief, Lt Gen Hameed Gul is honest and forthright, and even though one may not agree with his ideas, one holds him in high esteem for his integrity and patriotism. This is no ordinary group of soldiers!
The US$64,000 question is: where were they when respected national leader and former PAF chief Air Marshal Asghar Khan wrote to the Chief Justice, to quote his recent article reminding the CJ, “before the 2002 elections that if the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was not stopped from playing a political role, no fair elections would be possible. I received no reply and the election was held. I also wrote to General Pervez Musharraf before the 2002 elections that ISI’s political role should be withdrawn if free and fair elections were to be held. He replied that the ISI had no such role, and took no action. I wrote four letters to Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the last on August 8, 2007, reminding him that this case had been pending for eleven years, I was now 86 years old and he might therefore hold a hearing and give a decision. To this too, I received no reply. The role of ISI is not limited to influencing elections alone. It is now a major political force in Pakistan. I asked a person who had been changing his political affiliations frequently and had always succeeded in being elected, which party he was in? He said that he was always in the party that the ISI wanted him to join. It is unlikely that a military ruler or a political party once in power, would like to shed control of this powerful machine that it can use to perpetuate its power and control over the country. Pakistan is, therefore, likely to have the ISI in control of its affairs for a long time to come and we in this Islamic Republic of Pakistan, are likely to get used to this peculiar form of democracy.”
Arguably one of the finest products of Pakistan’s Armed Forces, Asghar Khan is no ordinary Pakistani. A man of outstanding integrity and calibre, his courageous voice is one of a handful that spoke out against the norm in 1971 when it was not fashionable and “patriotic” to do so. Admiral Ahsan, Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqoob and Col S G Mehdi are among the handful in 1971 who went with their conscience, they stand tall as icons of courage and true patriotism, maintaining conscience over patronage and ambition in a country that unfortunately not only recognises but eulogises the reverse. The Air Marshal has kept the strength and purity of his character and commitment intact. People of substance in the country must listen to the sane counsel of this powerful 86-year-old voice.
June 2008 promises to be a long and, in the absence of atta and electricity, a hot and hungry month.
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: email@example.com
Courtesy: The News, 5/6/2008