Pakistan: What will change and how?

THE unprecedented campaign by the lawyers
community in defence of the judiciary has spurred
hope in the hearts of ordinary women and men
across the land and ambition in the hearts of
many who wish to be their new masters. Everybody
is asking everybody else as to how this struggle
will end. Quite a few observers, trying as usual
to run ahead of the caravan, cannot hold back
their tidings of a new order. What does it mean
for the long-suffering majority of the people?

The lawyers have jealously protected, and done so
rightly, their struggle against hijacking by
outsiders. They have avoided, again rightly,
spelling out the relief they are asking for.
Ostensibly they are demanding an end to the
Establishment’s expedition against the Chief
Justice, in particular, and the institution of
the judiciary, in general. The objective is the
establishment of an unexceptionable convention
that from now on it would not be possible to coax
or coerce the judiciary into upholding all and
any acts or edicts of holders of power,
regardless of the merits of their claim to
legitimacy.

However, many among the blackcoats, especially
the young ones who have provided the community
with the critically needed spine, have set their
sights much higher: they wish to see justice
established not only in a narrow legal sense but
also in broader political and social meanings of
the term. It is possible that they have been led
into thus defining their goal by reading the
minds of the crowds that have greeted them in
city after city and who have waited by the
roadside for the Chief Justice’s cavalcade for
long hours.

There is no doubt that the people no longer have
faith in piecemeal justice; they look for
deliverance from each and every cause of their
suffering. As happens in struggles for national
liberation, everybody, the bystander as well as
the activist in the thick of battle, defines
justice in terms of his/her own needs and
aspirations. A complete presentation of their
wish-list is perhaps impossible but some of the
items on the agenda can be mentioned here.
The change that many have begun to talk about
means in the eyes of the masses: government by
freely chosen representatives, rule of law,
freedom from police (and their fellow
travellers’) raj, satisfaction of the tenant’s
(especially bonded hari’s) hunger for land,
guarantees of gainful employment for everyone and
entitlement to decent wages, equal opportunity to
women and the poor, provision of facilities for
quality education for every child and youth,
guarantees of basic rights to life, security and
liberty, and the right to provision of water,
electricity and gas.

The lawyers’ agitation has certainly contributed
to the formulation of the people’s agenda, but an
equally important factor is the unusual nature of
the coming general election. It is no ordinary
election in which the only issue could be the
election of a team, old or new, to manage the
state within an already settled framework. The
stakes in the 2007 general election are much
higher. Not only the people of Pakistan but also
the entire body of their well-wishers abroad wish
this election to mark the country’s transition to
democratic governance. In a way this election is
comparable to the 1970 polls and the people,
including the small and exhausted intelligentsia
believe this is the time to decide the
fundamental issues, failure to resolve which has
pushed Pakistan into one crisis after another.

What this means is that the issue is not merely
one of replacing the man at the top or revising
the terms of his contract, the essential issue is
division of powers among the three organs of the
state recognised in the democratic world and
guarding the people’s sovereign rights against
encroachment by any party. And since what has
been said above amounts to a systemic change and
a restructuring of the state, the people have
every right to put forward their views on the
direction and substance of the state’s agenda.

Quite a few people want the lawyers to take up
the people’s agenda and put their political and
socio-economic demands up front, otherwise the
public support for them will remain
unreciprocated. This demand appears to be
patently unfair. The question of reciprocity does
not arise. The fight for the independence of the
judiciary is not a matter of exclusive concern of
lawyers, who may appear to be fighting for their
group interest but are in reality fighting for
the basic rights of the whole population of the
country.

Besides, the lawyers have already done more than
what was expected of them. They have shown the
way to overcoming the fear of a seemingly
immovable and invincible authority. They have
demonstrated the possibilities of mobilising a
sizeable force on the basis of principles of
justice without exploiting any community’s
behalf, and they have foiled attempts to frighten
them through police violence and waves of
arbitrary arrest and detention. They can rightly
say that they have opened the floodgates of
change but the floodwaters are not subject to
their control.

The sort of change the people have set their
hearts on will not come about until the masses in
huge numbers, not in thousands but in hundreds of
thousands, resolve to pull down the walls the
vested interests have raised between them and the
seat of power. The lawyers cannot mobilise such a
force. That can only be done by political parties.
Unfortunately, the political parties, at least
most of them, have successfully knocked
themselves out of reckoning and any reference to
them in a political discussion is sometimes
greeted with howls of protest. It is time such
cynical dismissal of political parties was given
up. For one thing, there is no alternative engine
of political change. For another, a discussion on
the political parties’ past is bound to get
bogged down in a barren debate as to who caused
greater harm to Pakistan - the so-called civilian
political governments or the military-led
political regimes. Above all, the people should
accept some responsibility for letting the
political parties make a mess of their mandate.
The moment is quite favourable for any political
party that sincerely wants to win the hearts and
minds of the masses and is committed to the
pursuit of power solely on the strength of public
backing.

Although the time to the general election may not
appear sufficient to allow for broad-based
parties’ rebirth, in situations such as now
obtaining in the country, even a small investment
in the people’s political education and
mobilisation will pay high dividends. What is
required is that instead of talking only among
themselves and basing decisions on each other’s
ignorance of reality or on their expectations of
accommodation with the regime in power, the party
leaderships should engage themselves in a
sustained and comprehensive dialogue with the
people to ascertain their views on what they are
prepared to yield to the state and what the state
must guarantee them as part of its contract with
them.

The factors that prevent political parties from
spelling out their goals and policies are known.
Pakistan is now a totally fractured society,
thanks to successive spells of authoritarian
rule, and it is not easy to draw up propositions
that are equally acceptable to all parts of the
country and to all communities and groups living
in different regions, even in different parts of
a region. But if the task is difficult today it
may be impossible tomorrow. The political parties
should grow out of the habit of seeking rewards
without sweating for them. They will win half of
their battles the moment their programmes and
pledges are brought into harmony with the fair
demands of the people.

It may be necessary to point out that the
political parties’ failure to move forward
without an understanding with the masses will
cost them and the country dear. They will lose
whatever bargaining power vis-Š-vis the
Establishment circumstances have thrown their
way. Once again they will be held responsible for
missing the moment of change as visualised by the
citizens of Pakistan. All those in a position to
help the political parties rise to the occasion
must also bear in mind the consequences if the
people are again cheated out of the reward for
their sacrifices. They deserve better than what
they have traditionally received at the end of
Pakistan’s periodical upheavals, and what Faiz
had lamented in the troubled March of 1977:

’Hum keh hain kub say dar-i-ummed kay daryuza-gar
Yeh ghari guzri tau phir dast-i-talab phailain gay
Kucha-o-bazar say phir chun kay raiza raiza khwab
Hum yunhi pehlay ki soorat jornay lug = jaingay’
.

(In free translation the poet says: ’We are a
horde of beggars that has been held for long at
the gate of hope. Once this moment has passed, we
will again raise our hands in supplication. After
collecting the bits and pieces of our dreams from
streets and boulevards, we will start
reconstructing them as before’
.)

P.S.

* From Kashmir Times, June 29, 2007. Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | June 29-30, 2007 | Dispatch No. 2426 - Year 9.

* I.A. Rehman is Director of Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan based at Lahore.

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