Join the justice march
The News, June 11, 2008
The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst
The lawyers-led march joined by other troubled Pakistanis is indeed a long one. It is long because it begins from all corners of Pakistan and converges on Islamabad. And Pakistanis are troubled, in the immediate context by the continuing failure of the coalition government to restore the judiciary to the Nov 2 status. Within the broader context, however, multiple factors explain the remarkable and sustained level of popular following that the two phased movement--post-March 9 and post-November 2--has received. These likely include, though at varying degrees, political opposition to General Parvez Musharraf, a resounding citizens' "no" to the repeated trashing of the Constitution, questions over the Lal Masjid operation, the anger over the Balochistan operation, Bugti's killing, the Army's involvement in politics, the opposition to the FATA operation, the anguish over the "missing persons," the rage over the May 12 Karachi killings.
Significantly, what lies at the root of the collective grievance that these elements evoke is the violation of the principles and parameters laid down in the Constitution of Pakistan of the just treatment of the citizens by the State and the Executive. The Constitution principally imbibes the principles of natural justice and of Islamic justice, and hence its continued violation leaves the average justice-seeking citizen, whether or not familiar with the Constitution, angry and deprived. Hence, the popular support from the justice-seeking citizens of Pakistan qualifies it to be called the Justice March, not just a long march. It also happens to seek restoration of about 60 deposed justices who have now become symbols of resistance against the destruction of the judiciary.
Meanwhile, the criticism of the detractors of the Justice March is unconvincing. They argue it will create unrest, although the March in fact seeks to address the causes of the widespread simmering unrest in the country. Similarly, the criticism that the lawyers should give more time to the PPP for restoration is unfounded. Instead of taking steps to restore, the government appears to be procrastinating over the matter and opting for minority opinion in seeking a long circuitous and unreliable restoration route.
Also invalid is the criticism that the Justice March seeks to push for an extra-parliamentary route to change. Concerned citizens in all democratic societies reserve the right to peaceful protest to influence decision-making. Clearly the Justice March is a milestone effort by Pakistan's urban-population to push democracy beyond just the electioneering process. It is forcing the agents of democracy, the parliamentarians and the political parties, to squarely induct the element of accountability and justice through an independent judiciary. Meanwhile, some, in complete disregard to the national dynamics which have thrown up this resistance, have as usual argued, with no evidence, that the Justice Movement is part of an international conspiracy!
The Justice March is a juxtaposing of opposing forms of power. On the one hand is the rising power of popular spirit, which after the cumulative and bitter experience of absence of justice and fair play by those who exercise state and executive authority, by those who must deliver justice, has now resolved to collectively resist injustice. The chief justice's dismissal and the imposition of emergency were the triggers for this popular spirit, which through collective action and organisation has now been converted into popular political power. There are many significant characteristics of this new form of popular political power. Six are noteworthy.
One, while this is popular political power it is non-parliamentary and does not seek electoral power. Two, it seeks to influence electoral politics. The adoption of the restoration agenda by mainstream political parties like the PML-N, and to some extent by the PPP, is proof of the success of this non-parliamentary power to actually influence electoral politics. Three, this popular political power may draw support from various political and non-political groups, but in its objective of seeking justice, this power is not aligned to any political party. Hence, this power is committed to the principle of justice, and not to a particular political party.
Four, this popular political power, which has not emerged around partisan politics, has been caused by the experiential Pakistani wisdom that without justice and fair play by the State and the Executive, the Pakistani nation will continue to suffer political cronyism and nepotism, corruption of the powerful and the influential, increasingly distraught huge Pakistani population whether in Balochistan, absence of genuine and sustained democracy, the tribal areas or interior Sindh, expanding poverty, economic under development, absence of security and collective lack of self-confidence and dignity.
Five, this popular political power is positive, not bitter, in content and thrust. The non-violent and inclusive nature of this popular political power holds out genuine hope for Pakistan's ability to move ahead on a non-violent, non-divisive and democratic political path at the end of which there could be redress for those who have been wronged. Six, while the popular political power has many key individuals who have contributed to the emergence of this popular political power, individuals like Munir A Malik, Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmad Kurd and Hamid Khan, it is collective leadership which has given strength and stability to this popular political power. Even the chief justice, while being an inspirational figure, is constantly under sharp focus of those within the ranks of this popular political power who want him to remain just and fair, and indeed non-political at all cost. Interestingly, the overriding thrust of all these elements is the demand for justice and fair play by the politically powerful.
Which is then the other, the opposing brand of power? It is the callous power that flows from unaccountable exercise of authority whether civilian or military. And this is the power that the popular political power has risen to confront. The emergence of the popular political power has begun the weakening of this brand of unaccountable power. In demanding the rollback of the Nov 2 actions of the military ruler and controversially elected president, this popular political power is demonstrating that ultimately if there is popular resolve behind a movement to exercise power within the parameters laid down by the Constitution, the Constitution acquires the power and the authority to defeat khaki or authoritarian power.
What is particularly hopeful about this phase in Pakistan's political journey towards constitutional rule is that the popular political energy has been converted into a potent monitoring force too. It is this force that is a major contributing factor to the State and the politicians' effort to undo past wrongs and to some extent stay away from foul play. Even the immediate beneficiaries of the Justice March, the deposed judges, recognise this. They know that once back on their benches this popular political energy, which finds its expression primarily through Pakistan's independent media, will act as a deterrent against judicial biases. It will be a hard act, given the extreme polarisation that has taken place within Pakistan's political circle. But the demand for fair play by the those who occupy public space, ranging from lawyers, some political activists, citizens groups and media, will keep the justices from committing injustice even against their former foes.
The only wise path for the PPP leadership is to have the judiciary restored according to the Murree Declaration. Having jumbled it into the 62-point constitutional package, shows proclivity if not a deliberate design to want the restoration issue get subsumed in the long and tedious process of debating and discussing the package. Barring an unlikely miracle, final action on the package cannot be expected for at least a year. The popular political power has already rejected this one-year-plus formula to a possible, and by no means assured, restoration of all the judges.
The other possible way out, in the PPP's calculation, may be the early exit of the president, which the PPP perhaps believe would decrease popular support for the restoration. This too would be a gross miscalculation. The PPP leadership will soon conclude that unless the restoration is expedited, the coalition may be forced into different direction. The PML-N's hand may be forced by popular political power to stand closer to it and away from the PPP leadership. Hence, early restoration is the only way forward for genuine and stable democracy. There can be no democracy with a destroyed judiciary.
Meanwhile, in Islamabad, the blocking of the final destination of the Justice March on the real or contrived pretext of the security alert neither helps to weaken the rationale for the Justice March nor erodes the public support for it. In Pakistan, where the cry for justice and for accountable exercise of authority has acquired currency in popular politics, this Justice March will gather tremendous strength.