Jun 182008

Nasim Zehra

Even if questions regarding the political astuteness of the organizers of the long march are raised about the manner that they called the whole thing to a close, still the march did culminate after achieving many high points. It produced an unparalleled level of peoples’ participation in a non-partisan event which was at the same time political. And especially for Islamabad the massive gathering demanding the restoration of judges’ restoration was unprecedented – and equally unprecedented was the government’s handling of the protest. A joint PPP-PML-N committee, with active participation by the prime minister and his advisor on interior, ensured that state institutions did not in any way hinder the show of peoples’ support for the restoration of the judiciary.

While the long march did underscore public support for the cause of the restoration of the judiciary, the inconclusive manner in which it ended does not bode well – especially in how the non-lawyer community would respond to another call for such a protest. The lawyers community will now have to explore its ‘movement toolkit’, so to speak, to identify its onward and credible path. Continued dialogue with parliamentary forces remains indispensable for the judiciary’s restoration.

Meanwhile, the pre- and post-long march posturing, moves and statements of various political parties are significant. It raises numerous questions about the future trends in Pakistani politics. Eight are noteworthy.

One, what did the long march signify? It was a reiteration of the spirit of 2007 which mobilized people throughout much of its route. The numerical success of the march was also a manifestation of the growing post-March 9 (2007) phenomenon, the new non-partisan popular political power which cuts across political, ideological and class divides and seeks the exercise of executive, government and state power within the parameters laid down in the constitution.

Two, should the PML-N supporters and leadership have participated in the long march? The opinion within the PML-N was divided. Given the PML-N’s commitment to the restoration and also Nawaz Sharif’s commitment to keep the coalition intact, it was a tough call. The PML-N’s political support and its workers participation was a must. However it was Nawaz Sharif’s address, not his presence, at the long march, in Lahore that indicated perhaps a separation, even though issue-based, from the ruling coalition. His own contribution to the coalition’s cause, however, was that he contributed towards preventing a sit-in by the participants. Reports in the media in fact hold him squarely responsible for the unpopular decision not to sit in – a fact that the PPP should be grateful for.

Three, what was the PPP leadership’s political response to the long march? Asif Zardari’s response came in his Governor House speech in Lahore. He sought to claim a monopoly of the PPP on the leadership role in Pakistan’s original democratic struggle, on the sacrifices for democracy, on the ability to steer the nation back to genuine democracy, on the ability to organize a genuine long march and on the capability to successfully fight a military dictator now as it did in the past. In this speech, however, there was no mention of his government’s or party’s coalition partners. The ‘reconciliation man’ who hardly talks of democracy without mentioning the centrality of the PML-N partnership to strengthening the democratic system, seemed resentful now and was perhaps responding to PML-N’s participation in the long march. He seemed quite agitated and announced that very soon this party would install a PPP president, just like it had done in the case of Salman Taseer as governor of Punjab.

Four, what was the role and objectives of unelected political forces? The unelected political forces have aligned themselves with the restoration movement because they must believe in the cause. Yet they have their own political agendas and their political strategies, ranging from threatening the elected government with deadlines and ouster.

The organizers must ask themselves if allowing the politicians to address the long march was a politically correct move. While the presence of these leaders was necessary their making speeches meant that the long march was being used to promote different and even contradictory political agendas by non-elected groups. Interestingly, these parties with agenda of imposition of Sharia have extremely limited public following as has been proven by their inability to mobilize public support over the last four years.

Five, can Pakistan’s political temperature be reduced without the restoration of the judiciary? And the answer to that is ‘no’. The restoration issue is one that requires resolution because this is one that has captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands willing to occupy public space. Also the moral and constitutional legitimacy of the demand too requires a rapid solution. The best way forward now would be to de-link the restoration from the constitutional package and restore, all the judges while retaining the existing judges as ad hoc or regular. A perfect solution is impossible but a less than perfect too will be a major achievement for Pakistan’s society and politics.

Six, how must General Pervez Musharraf exit the scene? The disputed and constitutionally controversial president’s exit will contribute to lessening the country’s political temperature. For that to happen, the two routes include the voluntary route meaning his resignation. The second is the constitutional route, i.e. impeachment. The mammoth crowd at the long march, led by the political leaders who said Musharraf must not get a safe exit chanted “hanging, hanging, hanging”. Such an eventuality is most unlikely and not what this country needs. A voluntary exit by the president is the best option for him and the country that remains in the midst of immense turmoil.

Seven, what is the judicious way to settle the Lal Masjid issue which still warrants a closure? This question becomes relevant given that virtually every speaker during the long march demanded justice for the victims and punishment for those who conducted the operation. The dreadful end to the Lal Masjid saga has left people pained but the way forward is not to use this as a political tool against opponents. It requires instead a genuine and fair hearing of the Lal Masjid case by a credible judiciary so that the excesses and the reasons for these excesses by all sides can be identified and rectified so that they do not happen in future.

Eight, what is the way forward on the Kargil issue? Much political foot-balling has taken place on Kargil. To make cheap political gains over a issue as serious as Kargil is nothing more than acting in a self-serving manner. As a national service a serious impartial inquiry can be instituted. Kargil manifested the poverty of the skewed functioning of state institutions juxtaposed with the weakness of the functioning of the government. It was a blunder on many fronts and those responsible must be identified.

These multiple issues notwithstanding the question that trumps all this is the future of the ruling coalition. The demands of judicious politics are that the coalition stays intact and that the element of trust between the coalition partners is strengthened. ‘Going it alone’ for both parties is of course possible. However a likely fall out of separation will mean politics of confrontation and the dissipation of political energy in political battling. This would weaken not strengthen the parliamentary system, mark the return of politics of vendetta, further weaken and not strengthen state institutions. The cumulative and the perhaps the gravest impact of confrontational politics will be that the ruling coalition will render itself incapable of solving the acute problems, that this ruling coalition has inherited. The crisis of state society and politics will augment, not diminish.

The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst. Email: nasimzehra@hotmail.com

Source: The News, 18/6/2008

 Posted by at 7:33 am

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