A pundit, so-called, is meant to clarify things, to throw some light where darkness reigns. But I am confused myself and seek an answer to some very confusing questions.
My preferred Chief Justice of Pakistan, and like me the chief justice of choice of a vast number of Pakistanis, is Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. If chief justices were to be chosen in an election he would win hands down, leaving all rivals far behind.
But what confuses me is the matter of his restoration. Can he be restored without President Asif Zardari being shown out of the presidency? Can a pistol be put to Zardari’s head to make him agree to restore Chaudhry and the other deposed judges to their rightful positions? In other words, can this be done as long as the PPP is in power?
So what is the long march announced by the lawyers’ community meant to achieve? They plan a sit-in before parliament and the Supreme Court (both being close to each other) in order to force the government’s hand. But will the government’s hand be forced? It won’t be unless the lawyers storm the Supreme Court and physically install Iftikhar Chaudhry in the chair he once occupied. Can the lawyers do this? Are they even aiming to do this? And is the government in Islamabad so weak as to allow this to happen?
The lawyers’ movement has shown amazing tenacity. When cynics expected it to wither away it survived and kept going. Zardari maintains it was Benazir Bhutto’s ‘wisdom’ which created the conditions for General Pervez Musharraf to take off his uniform. This is selective and self-serving history.
What made Musharraf a liability in American eyes (and the US was his protective godfather) was his fatal weakening by the lawyers’ movement. The path to democracy thus was paved by the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan’s lawyers and the historic stand taken by the Supreme Bench headed by Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday — the bench which ruled against Musharraf and restored Chaudhry as chief justice.
But despite these striking and unprecedented successes the lawyers’ movement was not able to ignite a mass movement on the lines of the 1968 movement against Ayub Khan or the 1977 rightist upheaval against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. People lined the routes of the journeys Iftikhar Chaudhry made to various bar associations, and they showered him with more rose petals than perhaps anyone else in our turbulent history, but they erected no barricades and stormed no Bastilles.
From which we might infer that while the long march will excite public interest and people with great interest will watch the event unfolding on television, we are not going to see a million men and women, or even half that number, marching up Constitution Avenue and occupying the Supreme Court..
As for the sit-in, even if it is impressive, it’s a bit hard visualizing it lasting for too long. If an army marches on its stomach, as Napoleon said, for a sit-in to go on, the least you need are adequate toilet facilities, which are rather skimpy around the place where the sit-in is supposed to take place.
Lawyers have every right to agitate for the rule of law and the restoration of the rightful judiciary headed by Iftikhar Chaudhry. They owe this to themselves and to the people who were so inspired by their movement. But their leaders should not set unrealistic aims. No street agitation can bring Iftikhar Chaudhry back and the movement’s leaders do themselves no service by spreading the impression that somehow this miracle will come about with their long march.
Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Munir A Malik and Hamid Khan — some of the leading lights of the lawyers’ movement — are experienced enough to know that not every agitation is guaranteed to attain success. They should be satisfied if there is an impressive popular turnout on March 9. But if they aim too high and then fall short, they will only be paving the way to disillusionment and a collapse of morale.
Indeed, making it sound as if the long march will lead to decisive results is a sign not of confidence but desperation. This is a country where dictators have regularly stamped upon the constitution, where even elected leaders have not had much respect for the rule of law, where the highest judges at every turn in our history have provided succour and relief to military usurpers. Undoing this legacy is a vital task. But what makes anyone think that this task can be accomplished between one sunrise and one sunset?
Indian independence was achieved after decades of struggle. It took almost a century before apartheid in South Africa was buried. Behind Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency lies the saga of the civil rights movement.
Yes, we need an independent judiciary, one that serves the people and defends the laws of the land, one that is not a handmaiden of tinpot dictators. The rule of law must prevail. But to hitch these absolutely vital aims to a single day’s events is to betray impulsiveness, not resolve or strength of purpose.
Iftikhar Chaudhry and his fellow judges, Bhagwandas and Ramday chief amongst them, have performed what in Pakistan’s context can rightly be described as an historic role. They upheld the rule of law and in so doing stood up to a dictatorship, contributing mightily to its decline and fall. What if the democratic government replacing that dictatorship has betrayed popular expectations, and its own pledges, by not restoring the Supreme Court sacked by Musharraf on Nov 2, 2007?
Which worthwhile struggle is without its share of betrayals or setbacks, of hopes unfulfilled? Ask the Palestinians, ask the ghost of Martin Luther King. Was Mohammad Ali Jinnah happy with the moth-eaten Pakistan he got? He wasn’t but he had no choice: he could either take it or leave it. No revolution in history has lived up to its promise. Things desired are different from what they turn out to be. Which doesn’t mean that we fold up our hands and give up the fight. But it does mean we not lose sight of reality.
To repeat the obvious, unless our lawyer friends know something that we don’t, Zardari is not about to fall. And as long as this remains the state of play Iftikhar Chaudhry is not about to be restored.
What I also don’t understand is our confusion about parliamentary sovereignty. If parliament is sovereign, then the matter of the judges’ restoration should be left to parliament to decide. What the mood in that supposedly sovereign body may be, may not be to everyone’s taste or liking. But then if parliamentary sovereignty is to be something more than a catchphrase, we are left with no choice except to abide by whatever dominant mood therein prevails.
I hate to say it but there is no majority backing in the National Assembly for the restoration of the pre-Nov 2 judiciary. Tragic but true. Lawyers have every right to protest against this state of affairs. They have every right to carry on their struggle. But it is scarcely wise to mislead public opinion, and perhaps mislead oneself into the bargain, by setting impossible deadlines.
Huge rallies against the Iraq war have been brought out in western capitals, far bigger demonstrations of popular fervour than anything we can imagine in Pakistan. But these rallies have been part of a movement which still continues. Pakistan’s lawyers have done a great job and public sentiment is with them but it will be to their good to realise that the road ahead is long and arduous.
It is true there is much anger against the Zardari dispensation. Hopes raised by the last elections have given way to a feeling of disillusionment. But then, however hard it may be to swallow this, Zardari is democratically-elected president of Pakistan and the PPP enjoys majority support in the National Assembly. It took an election, not an armoured brigade, to see George Bush stepping into the sunset. We have to get used to the idea, however uncomfortable it may be, that we will have to wait for an election to see the last of the Zardari era.
Our political class refuses to learn from history. At a time when national unity should be the most precious commodity of all, knives are being sharpened for a fresh round of political confrontation, the PML-N talking in terms of popular mobilization and the PPP fishing for trouble in Punjab. Pakistan is facing serious threats, perhaps to its very existence, because of the fallout from America’s war in Afghanistan and the growing Taliban threat in Swat and FATA. But the political class, not for the first time, is demonstrating its incapacity to see beyond its short-term interests.
The people of Pakistan deserve better.