Given the logistical difficulties under a burning sun in June, there were sure to be many other problems of various kinds for the “long march.” Despite all the difficulties lawyers in substantial numbers from across the country joined in. Not only commendable, this was by itself a happening. The lawyers’ quest was to restore the superior judiciary immediately and without the constitutional necessities proposed, the political objective of those who hijacked the movement, mainly the PML-N, and/or those who climbed onto the lawyers’ bandwagon, i.e., the mostly unelectable Jamaat-e-Islami, Tehrik-e-Insaf, was to have the president resign.
The logistics exercise was helped along on several counts: (1) the natural hospitality of the Pakistani population providing food, water and whatever worldly comforts can be offered to such a motley caravan (2) the political parties and their organisational support, particularly that of the PML-N in Punjab, this included the Punjab government’s official machinery, and (3) Asif Ali Zardari’s timely decision to publicly announce cancelling the negative “container tactics” and receiving the protestors in Islamabad with open arms and hospitality.
The decision not to go in for confrontation was very sensible. It probably upset well laid plans by men and mice for fomenting anarchy and thus bringing down the federal government. The prospect was a security nightmare with umpteen permutations and combinations, the horrendous possibilities including suicide bomb attacks turning the peaceful crowd into a violent unruly mob. If for whatever reason the security forces had confronted the protestors the frenzy would have led to the crowd becoming a mob, the normal ham-handedness of our police there would have led to bloodshed, the mob running wild through Islamabad’s federal institutions, including Parliament, the Presidency, with adjacent residential areas being pillaged and sacked.
Interestingly enough, a number of interested observers seemed to encourage such a course, some even suggesting extravagantly the situation was akin to “Nero fiddling while Rome burned.” One must be thankful to God that neither did the crowd go berserk nor those with vested interest and bloody-minded intent got any reason to incite the crowd to run riot. This should be a matter of great satisfaction, for the organisers, for the participants – and, despite themselves, for the administration. Sanity triumphed! Can this maturity be sustained?
Even though the masses did not participate in force, there is certainly a clear moral victory here. The forceful message of dissent should be taken into account by the different centres of power in Pakistan. Most of the public abuse was against the person of President Musharraf, real anger was also directed against Asif Zardari. He was relentlessly pressured to succumb to their demands. They were clearly egging on others to pillory him. It is sheer hypocrisy for the PML-N to pretend otherwise. Zardari proved, not for the first time, to be a cool customer, for those who had great expectations from the “long march” putting paid to his 75-day rule, the sad truth is that these did not succeed. In not accomplishing either of the primary objectives despite the vast effort, the entire exercise became a tactical failure. The long-drawn-out effort made under the hot sun, with emotions overflowing, clearly exhausted the energies of the protestors. It is too early to ascertain whether the movement will lose momentum!
The leaders of the long march could not sustain their rhetoric, given the clearly stated aims, the obvious inference was a “sit-in” till their demands were achieved. In failing to accomplish their objectives they fell back on not only being ambiguous but waffling about how the “long march” would culminate. Only the most gullible believed that the objectives were beyond them; regretfully there were a lot of gullible people around, including a majority of the lawyers who took part with sincere motives. When it was announced that the sit-in would not take place, a vocal section felt robbed and reacted. Even though it was not a major protest, it may become so as the frustrated begin to question the motives of their leadership. With aspirations raised to fever pitch, that they would be dashed so easily was not expected. The backlash will have an affect on the lawyers’ movement in the long run. The leadership of the lawyers’ movement will be hard put to restore their credibility. Why did the leaders blink when they believed their cause was just and they would not rest till final success? There will be reaction from those who felt betrayed, the rhetoric of their leaders let them down. One must beware of the rage of angels!
On the controversy about numbers, what difference does it make whether 20,000 or 200,000 were present? Was the whole exercise meant to assemble numbers? There is an old maxim: Do not engage in battle until you are confident you will win, unless of course the battle is forced on you! The central objectives of the protestors may have been the same, but some of the major participants had other, disparate motives, some principled and some political, some for selfish purpose and not so principled. The principled stand of the lawyers was exploited by each and every one who climbed onto their bandwagon; this is already a subject of critical analysis.
Other theories exist: (1) since a suicide bomb attack was quite callously expected by some, the resultant frenzy could have led to the objectives being achieved, and conversely (2) the powers that be deliberately encouraged the protest on prime time media to convey to the West the perception of what would happen if the politicians present in the procession ever came to power in Pakistan.
One conspiracy theorist even came up with the far-fetched theory that all this was arranged by the ISI to discredit the rightist parties in the eyes of the West. Whatever the motives, we are fortunate that the long march did not go off with a bang. Mian Nawaz Sharif will have his work cut out, decoupling himself from the extremists. For the others it does not matter; they are mostly unelectable anyway. Forcing themselves into Parliament on the back of a mob was the only way in!
The tactical failure of this long-lasting tremendous effort founded on great principles has become a strategic disaster for Musharraf’s opponents. One cannot savour the moment; the success is based on someone else’s failure. This respite can be used to good effect to include re-thinking of both the immediate and distant future by both Pervez Musharraf in the Presidency and Asif Zardari’s coalition government. Now is the time to again reach out for genuine national compromise, and if the hand is refused will Asif Zardari ignore the blatant political hypocrisy displayed quite apparently by his “coalition partners” during the “long march”? How long can he afford to turn the other cheek without being labelled “weak”? He must get on with federal governance with those who choose unconditionally to join him, or go it alone. Or find himself out in the cold again!
About Pervez Musharraf, “with such friends who needs enemies,” one can paraphrase the saying for him: “With such enemies why does he need friends?”
The writer is a defence and political
analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9 .com
The News, 19/6/2008