June 15, 2008


Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 1:28 am
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JUNE 15, 2008


The descent of the long-marchers on Islamabad, which began Friday afternoon and continued into Saturday, marks an event of immense significance. After decades, ordinary people may well prove the force they wield is mightier than that of dictators and political parties who align themselves with them. Buoyed by the immense crowd, the tone of the key speakers certainly left no doubt that they intended to ensure their target was attained. This goal, as lawyer leader and Supreme Court Bar Association President Aitzaz Ahsan clarified, was the restoration of the pre-November 3 judges and the creation of a welfare state. Mian Nawaz Sharif, who arrived at the venue of the mammoth rally several hours into Saturday, made it clear there would be no safe exit for the president. He also called on parliament to make decisions in keeping with the wishes of the people. He stressed these wishes included the departure of President Musharraf.

Whereas an initial plan to stage an indefinite sit-in at Islamabad was cancelled, with Aitzaz citing resource constraints, the impact of the long march will not dissipate with the dispersal of the hundreds of thousands who participated in it. Figures being projected range from about 200,000 to half a million with the actual figure, most probably, somewhere in between. By any standards, the gathering was huge. More remarkable still was the fact it included so large a cross-section of people, ranging from political workers and lawyers to ordinary housewives and professionals. It seems in many ways extraordinary that an issue which on paper appears to be rather academic – that is the restoration of judges – could have galvanized so many people to come together, braving high heat, hours of travel and the threat of terrorist attacks that now hover everywhere.

What those who had predicted the long march would fizzle out, and the political parties – chiefly the PPP – which distanced itself from it, had not realized that the campaign for judicial restoration has metamorphosed since its earliest days. Today, it has come to represent a struggle by people against oppression, against injustice, against a lack of democracy and against wrong of every kind. The presence of tens of thousands of people under the shadows of the three buildings that represent the institutes of state; parliament, the Supreme Court and the presidency was as such extremely appropriate. The slogans raised hour after hour by the crowd, calling for Musharraf to leave, also made it clear which institution they saw as the main source of anti-people authority.

The results that emerge from the march on Islamabad are yet to be seen. Will President Musharraf, as he has done in the past, simply turn a blind eye to all that has happened and go back to his insistence that people wish him to stay? Has Aitzaz Ahsan emerged as, potentially, the man to lead the country at some point in the not too distant future? Will a newly galvanized PML-N carry on where the long march left off?

But perhaps most intriguing of all will be the impact on the PPP – the party that terms itself a party of the masses, yet removed itself from their midst as these masses converged on Islamabad. Within the party the voices critical of the manner in which Asif Ali Zardari has handled matters are rising. Some believe a split may not be far off; others say it is still not too late for the PPP to jump onto the long march bandwagon by beginning the process to impeach the president. But Zardari, who delivered a talk to Steel Mill workers in Karachi as the long marchers shook Islamabad, will have to make truly heroic efforts if his party is to recover from this latest debacle. The PPP, at present, is regarded as having allied itself with the presidency for reasons of expediency. After the long march, there is growing conviction that this is the losing side.

Parliament too, as the body representing people, needs to rise up to its role. All eyes will be on it during the days ahead. The people have shown they are capable of demanding their rights. Parliament needs to prove it is capable of delivering these to them.


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