At this stage, when the country faces an economic meltdown and terrorism threatens to tear it apart, the politics of confrontation could have disastrous consequences. What our politicians need to understand is that populism is a double-edged sword and could unleash forces beyond their control
The six-day-long march led by the lawyers that concluded on Saturday morning has left many questions in its wake. It was indeed an impressive show of strength and to a great extent reflected the popular sentiments for the restoration of the judges deposed by President Pervez Musharraf under the state of emergency. But it is not clear how far the rally served its stated objective of pressurising the parliament to reinstate the pre-November 3 judiciary.
The event has intensified political polarisation and left the future of the ruling coalition hanging in the balance. The slogans and the rhetoric witnessed in the rally do not bode well for the future of democracy which has barely taken off the ground and is still in a transition phase. What is more disturbing is the way the vested interests and anti-democratic forces are trying to use the issue to serve their own reactionary agenda. It is not surprising that the march ended on a bitter note, leaving the democratic forces more divided.
It was unprecedented in Pakistan’s history when the lawyers stood up against Musharraf’s March 9 action to sack the chief justice of Pakistan. The lawyers’ movement, aptly described by many as the ‘black coat’ revolution, transformed the country. It galvanised the entire population around the two-point slogan of “democracy” and “rule of law”.
The movement changed the country’s political dynamics and ultimately resulted in a humiliating defeat for Musharraf’s supporters in the February 18 elections. Musharraf’s second coup on November 3, failed to stem the tide. Indeed the restoration of judges was one of key election campaign issues, if not the main one.
It is natural for the lawyers to feel disappointed when the restoration issue dragged on. Both the PPP and the PMLN, the two main coalition partners, agreed on the judges’ restoration, but differed on the approach. The PPP links their reinstatement with a constitutional reform package which is still under process of consultation. Such divergence of views, however, is a part of the democratic process and it is the mandate of the parliament to resolve the issue.
Unfortunately, things have not happened this way. The long march has taken the battle back to the streets. The organisers of the march vowed to besiege the parliament and force the government to concede their demand. That also provided opportunity to rightwing conservative elements, marginalised in the elections, and their allies among retired army officers to reassert themselves. They are least interested in democracy or independence of the judiciary and used the rally as a vehicle to spread their retrogressive message. Their agenda is to turn the wheel of history and return the country to the Ziaist era of Mullacracy.
From the very outset the long march was turned into a PMLN show with the lawyers’ cause taking a back seat. Nawaz Sharif used this platform to vent his anger not only against Musharraf but also launched a veiled attack on the PPP leadership for backtracking on their promise to restore the judges. He made it clear that the ruling coalition could only survive on his condition.
Mr Sharif has smelt blood and wants to avenge his humiliation at the hands of Musharraf and his Generals when they ousted him from power in 1999. “Is hanging only for politicians?” he asked. The crowd responded by chanting “Hang him, hang him.” This kind of confrontationist politics could push the country to civil strife and derail the nascent democratic process. Have we not learnt any lesson from our political history?
At this stage, when the country faces an economic meltdown and terrorism threatens to tear it apart, the politics of confrontation could have disastrous consequences. The country needs statesmanship, not violent rhetoric. What our politicians need to understand is that populism is a double-edged sword and could unleash forces beyond their control. It undermines the parliament when decisions are made on the streets.
Protest is a democratic right of the people, but it cannot override the decision of a democratically elected parliament. A leader of Jama’at-e Islami has given a 48-hour deadline to the government to restore the judges and a group of retired Generals gathered under the dubious banner of Ex-Servicemen Society has vowed to continue the agitation. It is apparent that they do not have any stake in the present system and their main agenda seems to create a situation for another military takeover.
Remember the PNA movement of 1977 and what it led to? Should we allow these elements to repeat the history?
Zahid Hussain is senior editor Newsline and Pakistan correspondent for The Times, London and The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of Frontline Pakistan
Source: Daily Times, 17/6/2008