Original Articles

My choice today: Sunday 15 June 2008; Long March: gains and losses,

The long march: gains and losses (no more than 40,000 participants) – Irshad Ahmed Haqqani

Long march ends on bitter note

By Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD, June 14: The lawyers’ long march ended on a bitter note after a group of lawyers and political activists insisted on staging a sit-in outside the Parliament House and accused Aitzaz Ahsan of striking a ‘deal’ with the government.

About 50 agitated protesters tried to scale the ship containers set up at the D-Chowk and enter the protected area where the Parliament House, President House and Supreme Court are located.

They removed barbed wires and beat up some security personnel. They said they had been promised that their protest would continue until their demands were met.

Aitzaz Ahsan, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), delivered an emotional speech and said that those who were accusing him of striking a deal should realise that he had once turned down an offer of premiership made by the president.

“The president told me that he could ask the then prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, to step down ‘in 15 minutes’, but first I had to stop supporting the deposed chief justice.”

Mr Ahsan said he had sacrificed a lot for the cause and refused to become a joint PPP-PML-N candidate for two National Assembly seats. “I can assure you that I or my colleagues cannot compromise on the issue of the judiciary,” he told the people who wanted to proceed towards the Parliament House.

Persuading them to disperse peacefully, he said: “One thing which I did not want to say before the full glare of the media is that if we go ahead and stage the sit-in, this huge gathering will dwindle to just 2,000 and the impact of this show of strength will be spoilt.

“We will not relent on the issue until independent judges are reinstated,” he said.

Urging the people to go home, Mr Aitzaz said: “We will fight the war at the right time and at the right place.”

Earlier during the rally, lawyers, representatives of civil society and politicians called for President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation and the reinstatement of deposed judges, including Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, ‘with honour and dignity’.

Participants of the largest demonstration in Islamabad yet criticised the role of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), especially Asif Ali Zardari, and accused it of delaying the restoration of the judiciary.

They said the time had come for President Musharraf’s impeachment, adding that he should be held accountable for his nine-year-long ‘misrule’.

“President Musharraf will not be given safe passage. He will be impeached and held accountable for his deeds,” chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-N Nawaz Sharif said.

“The president must be held accountable for the killing of innocent children in the Jamia Hafsa and the Lal Masjid, unprecedented price hikes, shortage of flour, the killing of 50 people in Karachi on May 12 last year, military operations in Balochistan and tribal areas and the virtual collapse of the economy,” Mr Sharif said.

The lawyers’ long march turned into a public meeting in Islamabad and was attended by representatives of civil society, ex-servicemen, workers of the PPP, PML-N, Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf, the Khaksar Tehrik, doctors, former diplomats, Madressah students, traders and businessmen and remained at the parade venue for more than 14 hours – from 3pm on Friday to 5am Saturday.

The PML-N chief, who joined the gathering at 3am, urged participants to keep up the pressure. “I can see the country’s destiny changing because of your tremendous resolve.”

Mr Sharif said that he could not understand why the PPP co-chairman was reluctant to honour the Murree Declaration. “Although I am a coalition partner, I will always support the lawyers’ demand … for restoring the pre-Nov 3, 2007, judiciary.”

However, he urged the protesters to avoid staging a sit-in because they had recorded their protest and given a stern message to the circles concerned. “This was the first step. My party is with you. We will come again … but before staging the sit-in (in front of the Parliament House), all stakeholders must agree, otherwise we will leave,” Mr Sharif said.

A timely interference by some lawyers stopped a group of young protestors from proceeding farther into the Red Zone, otherwise an uncontrollable law and order situation could have arisen.

The programme ended at 5am and people dispersed except for some youths who kept their vigil till 3pm on Saturday.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik, along with senior security officials, visited the venue and expressed satisfaction over the peaceful conclusion of the protest. Terming the lawyers’ protest a success, the adviser estimated that about 20,000 people had attended the event. (Dawn).

Beyond the long march

FRIDAY’S rally in Islamabad by lawyers and their political allies was a significant event by all accounts and one that fairly reflected the public mood. Credit must equally be given to the organisers and the capital’s administration for seeing the event through in a peaceful manner given the numbers that had converged on Islamabad from across the country. Both sides kept their promises: the lawyers and the participating political parties ensured that the crowd did not become unruly or go beyond the designated area; the Islamabad administration facilitated rather than obstructed the event. The decision by the organisers not to stage an indefinite sit-in in front of parliament and instead disperse after they had made their point was a prudent one. This should give the federal government the face-saving it so desperately sought as the crowds swelled through Friday and into Saturday morning. The time for parliament to take up the issue of the judges’ reinstatement is now. Stretching it any further will not benefit anyone, least of all the PPP which is increasingly seen as dragging its feet on the issue despite having made commitments to the contrary.

As for the participants in the long march, their disparate rhetoric made it clear who took part and for what cause. The lawyers want the restoration of the judges first and foremost; the PML-N, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf want President Musharraf impeached and brought to book for his extra-constitutional actions; the nationalist and Islamist groups want compensation for the wrongs committed against them and guarantees that they would not be uprooted and their leaders imprisoned or killed; families of the missing persons demand their loved ones back. That’s quite a list, and one that the government cannot easily ignore if it does not wish to see a repeat of Friday’s protest against its policies; the next one may not pass as peacefully.

Mercifully, the stage has not come just yet when ordinary people regardless of whichever party they voted for but reeling as they do under the burden of economic hardship, the energy crisis and so many other issues that affect them everyday, will join anyone out to rock the boat of democracy. The overabundance of piled up issues, many of which the current rulers have inherited as a legacy of bad governance that preceded them, is waiting to be addressed. As parliament takes its time debating the judges’ issue or the president’s impeachment, if at all, there is little justification for not taking on menaces like load shedding, the flour shortage, spiralling crime rate and food price inflation, for instance. Also, the making and breaking of peace deals with extremist elements the US-led Nato forces are chasing inside Pakistan calls for a clearer policy the lack of which has added to the government’s predicament in Fata and elsewhere. (Dawn).

Long march ends without roadmap

* Some young lawyers protest after Nawaz advises Aitzaz, other lawyers’ leaders to take all decisions after consultation

By Rana Qaisar 

ISLAMABAD: The lawyers’ long march ended without any roadmap for future strategy leaving many, who wanted the leadership to announce an indefinite sit-in until the reinstatement of the sacked judges, flabbergasted.

The long march caravan that reached its culmination point in the wee hours of Saturday dispersed early morning with a majority of young lawyers disappointed as Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Aitzaz Ahsan announced that no decision had been taken to stage a sit-in in front of parliament. 

The long march show, which had already been overshadowed by the workers and supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), became a political event with the arrival of Nawaz Sharif who held parliament responsible for not restoring the judges. Covertly pointing the finger at Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif said: “I don’t understand why a resolution, despite an agreement, is not being tabled in parliament.” 

Addressing the participants of the long march, he said President Pervez Musharraf should be hanged. “We asked you (Musharraf) to quit with honour after the election but you didn’t…the people have now again given a judgement and want you to be held accountable,” he said, adding that Musharraf should not be given a safe exit.

“Is hanging only for politicians?” he asked and said: “These blood-sucking dictators must also be held accountable.” When he said Musharraf should be tried for treason, the participants shouted, “go-Musharraf-go”. 

He rejuvenated the lawyers by telling them that he saw in them “the dawn of a new era…your passion will restore the supremacy of the law, restore the judges and punish this dictator”. 

Mutual consultation: But at the same time he gave an unexpected twist to the lawyers struggle by advising Aitzaz Ahsan and other leaders of the movement that after the long march, all decisions should be taken by mutual consultation. 

This created doubts in the minds of the lawyers about the future strategy after the culmination of the long march and they started shouting slogans against Aitzaz Ahsan without naming him. A group of young lawyers and political workers, who had come to stage a sit-in as a follow-up of the long march, felt betrayed and attempted to cross the barbed wires to enter the Red Zone but the administration engaged them to prevent any clash. 

No end: However, angered by the young lawyers’ slogans, Aitzaz could not hide his feelings and told them that he was deeply hurt to see them feeling betrayed. “There will be no closure of this issue until the fearless, independent judges are reinstated,” he repeatedly said.

However, he did not support calls from a group of young lawyers and political workers to announce a sit-in outside parliament to press for restoration of the judges. “We will fight the war at the right time and at the right place,” he said, and referring to Nawaz Sharif’s advice, he told the participants that all future decisions would be taken with mutual consent. 

The lawyers continued demanding him to announce that he should announce the next strategy but he skilfully avoided the issues and at the end of his speech said: “no decision has been taken for sit-in” and with this he ended his speech and the long march that started on June 10 from Karachi came to an abrupt end in Islamabad. (Daily Times).

Who is the movement against?

The impressive gathering in front of the parliament in Islamabad in the early hours of Saturday is supposed to have sent a particular message to certain quarters. What did the message contain? Was there one message or more than one? For whom was it meant? What impact did it have? If there was a message or messages, were they being articulated by one party or many? Who were the people in the big crowd in Islamabad ? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are not clear. There are as many answers as there are contenders in the movement.

Analysts of the phenomenon are of two kinds: those who support the gathering with a cool and rational head and those who cannot prevent their anger and passion from slipping into their assessments. So there is virtually no impartial observer. 

There are 130 district bars in Pakistan and the total number of lawyers in the country is just over 100,000. The long march and gathering was supposed to be of the lawyers’ movement but it was forcefully strengthened by support from a clutch of political parties and sections of civil society formations. There were men, women and children and babies, too, suggesting that overwhelmingly the mass of the people was from the local population of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. There were political parties too, led by the dominant PMLN which rules in Punjab. The APDM rejectionist group was there too, with the Jamaat-e-Islami of Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Tehreek Insaf of Imran Khan making their presence felt. 

Some political parties were conspicuous by their absence. The largest party, the PPP, was not there although it was claimed, without proof, by some observers that some PPP lawyers from Gujrat had joined the march. From among the religious parties, the peripheral Khaksar Tehreek was there but not the JUI of Maulana Fazlur Rehman; nor was the MQM represented, which actually has been designated by the movement as a “hostile” entity. The PMLQ sitting in the opposition was not there either although its stance is carefully non-hostile to the lawyers, despite the way their leader from Mianwali, Dr Sher Afgan Khan, was treated in Lahore. 

What was the message? The movement had decided that instead of the residence of President Musharraf, it would target the parliament. Although “go Musharraf go” was the collective slogan of the evening, the lawyers said they wanted the deposed PCO-2000 judges reinstated through an executive order and they wanted the PCO-2007 judges ousted. The PMLN, thanks to whom the Long March could gather steam as it passed through Punjab, was clearly asking the president to quit. The party firebrands who addressed the crowd left no ambiguity in their statements that they wanted the president to face impeachment and a trial for high treason. But Mr Ahsan said the march was to pressurise parliament to do the needful.

The people who listened to the speeches included citizens who wanted to hear negative things about a past regime that had given them prices they could not afford and the suffering through loadshedding that was beyond endurance. Among these, most were from the lower middle class who thought the lawyers and the political parties would together bring the prices down, make essential goods easily available, and banish loadshedding. But the message from the leader of the lawyers, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, was that the restoration of the judges under the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry would lead to an economic upturn in the short term which would alleviate the people’s suffering. 

On-the-spot analysis on TV said the gathering was not against the sitting government and one senior editor said that, like the anti-Qadiani movement of the 1970s, it was based on principles desiring change of constitution and policy. Another analyst said that the rally was against the PPP and the show did not belong to the lawyers as much as to the PMLN which was sending a message to its ally the PPP. It was also opined that in the coming days, the gulf in the coalition would widen and the PPP would be required to show as much, if not more, strength or lose the support of the masses. More emotionally, the print media analysts blamed the PPP and its leader Mr Asif Ali Zardari of being “on the wrong side of the people of Pakistan”. 

The PPP thought it could blunt the direction of the onslaught by facilitating the Long March inside Islamabad. It even offered food to the crowd but the lawyers turned it down, clearly indicating their intent to make the PPP change its mind on the methodology of restoring the judges through its constitutional package. Discussions on TV did focus on the matter of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which is supposed to balk the PPP, but no one suggested that the lawyers’ movement, instead of pushing the PPP into a suicidal decision, should show it the way out, which of course will have to be the middle way. 

The movement is clearly converging to confrontation with the PPP, which will create undue instability and hurt the economy currently being discussed in the National Assembly. After the PMLN ducked out of it, the PPP emerges as the sole custodian of the budget 2008-09, and the hardship it promises even as it tries to alleviate the suffering of the poor with concessions will weaken Islamabad’s will to fight all the battles facing it. (Daily Times)