Shehar ki faseelon per dayv ka jo saaya tha…

** This post was originally published on FASTRising Official blog on March, 19th, 2009. **

The short version, by our in-house wit: An idea whose time has come cannot be contained – nor container-ed.

The spiel:

While the nation celebrates and the most pessimistic activists are in wait-and-see mode till the 22nd of March, it behooves us to do a tally.

Some positives:

  1. At the national level, a large number of people have finally seen a practical demonstration of the effectiveness of popular power in a democratic setup – however young and weak our democracy may be. This is a tremendous boost for those pro-democracy activists who have always held that democracy is what you make of it, not something that evolves out of endless drawing-room discussions. The movement has, at least for the moment, put paid to the popular lament that, “Nothing can go right, nothing can be fixed in this country.” We believe that it has made a significant contribution to transforming us, a dormant and confused mass of people, into a responsible nation.
  2. In terms of federalism, we have narrowly avoided having the movement labeled as a Punjabi-centric issue – to the extent that finally even Lahoris, long derided for their heartless collaboration with the incumbent power, can now claim to have participated in a popular uprising against injustice. In fact, the festivities in all the four provinces indicate that the movement has made the federation stronger than ever before.
  3. The PML-N leadership, while it has reaped many benefits from their role in the movement, has, it has to be admitted, displayed remarkable maturity despite the fact that the announcement by the Prime Minister on the morning of the 16th did not even mention the issue of the disqualification of the Sharif brothers.
  4. Again, at the national level, the lawyers’ movement has managed to achieve a significant change in policy through popular agitation without toppling the government or letting the Army make a grab for power – and this despite many invitations, subtle as well as blatant, from prominent media personalities as well as at least one leader of a prominent religio-political party, to the COAS to step in and play his “constitutional” role.
  5. In general, this leads us once again to an appreciation of one of the great benefits of movements predicated on principles rather than personalities: sooner or later, they expose all those who attempt to exploit it to grab power for themselves. And they edify all those who, for one reason or another, find within themselves the courage of their convictions.
  6. The raising of the level of discourse and of expectations: whichever bench the Chief Justice will form in the Supreme Court for hearing any politically contentious case will be under strict public scrutiny (through the media). In each such case, judges of the Supreme Court will have to match the fearless attitude of Chief Justice’s court witnessed before March 2007. Practically, the Supreme Court is a permanent watchdog on the executive and also on the excesses of the government. The people (through the media and through citizen activism), in turn, are a watchdog on the Supreme Court. Just a few years ago, we could not imagine that we would make so much progress towards achieving such a balance of power.
  7. Perhaps the biggest gain on the local (or community) level is the higher level of political consciousness gained by students of FAST-NU as well as alumni and their colleagues in the ICT industry (software firms, telecommunication providers and contractors, ISP’s, IT departments, etc.) – which has led to the creation of a community that has learned to sustain and support a resistance movement centred on a clearly-defined cause.

Some negatives:

  1. The Prime Minister’s speech makes no mention of declaring the actions of November 3rd unconstitutional.
  2. It implicitly acknowledges the legality of the tenure of Mr. Dogar as the Chief Justice of Pakistan (and by simple extension of logic) of all those recruited to fill in the blanks left by the judges who refused to “refresh” their oaths under the second PCO.

Left un-answered:

  1. Will Mr. Iftikhar Chaudhry as Chief Justice be able to fully exercise his powers and resume the suo moto actions that made him so many enemies in the Establishment? [1] He is likely to be very cautious in all his acts because his countless opponents in the political set-up and especially in the Establishment (the hidden government) will leave no stone unturned in making a huge blot out of the smallest blemish.
  2. Will the restored Chief Justice be able to expedite the recovery of the missing persons, victims of the various military operations – both covert as well as large-scale – conducted since 1999/2000? We refer here to those abducted and “disappeared”, some allegedly tortured and already killed, by the state in military operations in Balochistan, FATA, FANA, Swat as well as those alleged terrorists secretly handed over to Western powers or held in secret detention centres on Pakistani soil.

Finally, a moment of quiet meditation in honour of the martyrs of the movement, those who gave their lives for the cause of sovereign self-government through the restoration of the independent judiciary and of formal parliamentary democracy [2].

While it is not yet time for major festivities, we share N.M Rashid’s cautious optimism:

Zindagi say dartay ho?

Zindagi say dartay ho?

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[1] Refer, for example, to the editorial in Naked Punch Asia, Vol 2, page 9.

[2] Formal as opposed to substantive: the first was won when the state of Emergency was lifted and elections were held while various steps since then have taken us forwards and backwards in our quest to achieve the second. For example, the resignation of the previous dictator was arguably a positive step while the maintenance of Presidential authority over Parliament (ref.: Article 58(2)b and the Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution) is a regressive step, prolonging our legacy of authoritarian rule.

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