Lawyer’s Long March: What Did It Achieve?

Posted on June 20, 2008
Filed Under >Raza Rumi, Politics
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Raza Rumi

THE enthusiasts for the long march towards Islamabad are justifiably feeling let down by the grand posturing, thundering rhetoric and the subsequent retreat from agitation outside the dreary citadels of power in Islamabad’s dark heart.

Lawyers long march in PakistanLawyers long march in PakistanLawyers long march in PakistanLawyers long march in Pakistan

A Bastille, which was not meant to be? Interpretations abound and explanations are flowing in from the motley groups who ventured to change the contours of state-society relations. The lawyers’ movement is profoundly significant. It constitutes the finest historical ‘moment’ in our troubled history. However, many observers have hinted at its limitations and the problematic phase that the movement has now entered.

Unlike China, Pakistan’s long marches have been nefarious for their results. Orchestrated by political and non-political actors to undermine the democratic process, we are well aware of this stratagem. This time it was different, complex and refreshingly path-breaking alas with similar results: pressurise the beleaguered PPP government still trying to find the proverbial power-ground beneath its truncated legs. In that sense, the march was a roaring success. From the sloganeering against the much maligned Asif Zardari, to de-legitimising three decades of PPP’s valiant struggle against dictatorship culminating in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Irony, that all is now a forgotten snippet of history. What is indeed more pressing, as we are told time and again, are the sacrifices made by the honourable judges. Indeed they have altered the parameters of the state and perhaps buried the subordination of the judiciary to the all powerful executive. Well, one may ask what about Asif Zardari and his eleven and a half years in jail without a single conviction? Therefore the vilification of Zardari by anti-Musharraf sections of the media and by the historical long march is symbolic. It is a testament to the deep-seated middle class trend of demonising politicians and party politics that are prerequisites for democracy and means to establish the ‘rule of law’.

The opportunism of individuals and groups jumping onto the lawyers’ bandwagon is also alarming. It is most convenient to have been all-powerful army chiefs, heads of the ISI and former honchos of the civilian bureaucratic monolith and once the party is over, re-christen yourself as firebrand democrats. The patriotic Hameed Guls, Aslam Begs and Faiz Ali Chishtis and the neo-constitutionalist Roedad Khans and right-wing ambassadors (who slept while Afghans were killed for strategic depth), must be questioned by the anti-Musharraf movement for it was their historical culpability that undermined civilian governance. Is it not important that circumspection be exercised while letting them be the spokespersons of the new vanguard? If Zardari has to be isolated then these dubious characters must also be questioned.

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect is the ‘activism’ of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s touted apology to the nation was just another political ruse. For most of Musharraf’s reign, JI supported army rule and participated in power-games such as the legitimisation of the seventeenth amendment. The PPP’s constitutional package enunciating amendments to restore the federal and democratic character of the polity is now being trounced by JI! This is cynical hypocrisy. History has still many questions for the JI: from the nefarious role in supporting army action against civilians in former East Pakistan to the jihad games of the 1980s and legitimation of another dictator, Ziaul Haq, whose shadows refuse to leave us. Another guest star of this movement, the fearless jirga-loving Imran Khan was also campaigning for the dubious referendum of 2002. It is still intriguing as to how jirgas fit in the ‘rule of law’ paradigm?

The Jamaat and Imran Khan are deciding what the election results were. Their temerity in doing so goes unnoticed — after terming the February election a farce they refer to the results ad nauseum. Paradoxically, they are rocking the system that has resumed almost after a decade?

Today, Aitzaz Ahsan stands out among the politicians for his oratory and sense of history. It pains to see him dabble into these alliances with groups not known for their principles. Ahsan is a dyed-in-the-wool secular democrat; and is aware of the cul-de-sac where the movement might end i.e. pushing the people’s verdict into the right-wing of Pakistani political spectrum well known for its closeness to the national security state.

Nawaz Sharif might have learnt his lessons in history a la Pakistan style. He has to be wary of the born-again democrats; and may wish to revisit the public statements of these ex-servicemen cohorts, Imran Khan and JI after he was overthrown despite the two-thirds majority. Rationalising civil-military relations therefore should be a foremost priority given that Sharif is eyeing Islamabad in the next election. This can only be achieved through strengthening the democratic process. Unfortunately there is no alternative.

The puritanism of the lawyers’ movement and pitching it against the civilian government is unwittingly making things easier for the invisible hand in Pakistan’s political marketplace. The establishment (that does not include Mr Zardari and his transient sojourn in the corridors of power) could not have it better. The crumbling of the PPP-PML coalition, the continuation of a distorted constitution and resumption of 1990s’ political polarisation is the best formula for business as usual. Hence for any ‘rule of law’ movement, the stakes are bigger than the individuals that the movement is targeting.

Thus the need for a shift in the strategic focus of the movement arises. What is wrong with a refined constitutional amendment if it is backed by parties and the lawyers’ movement? Once enacted, Musharraf’s exit will be certain. This would be an unravelling of the authoritarian insertions and triumph of the legal and democratic system. Justice is not restricted to benches with men of conscience; it also denotes the redistribution of power. Not just between the pillars of the state but also to the disempowered through political representation and electoral accountability.

The other, oft-repeated rhetoric is the route of confrontation. Many had hoped that the thousands in Islamabad would carry out a dharna. But that did not happen ostensibly for ‘lack of resources’. Or is it that the guest stars of the movement are not willing to take on the state? Bourgeois movements rarely lead to street battles. The right could very well be fishing in troubled waters with the tacit support of the faceless power-centres. The route of constitutional process and parliamentary sovereignty can still be considered over the unclear, dangerous path of confrontation.

The writer contributes to Jahan-e-Rumi and Pak Tea House. This article also appeared in Dawn. here.

23 Comments on “Lawyer’s Long March: What Did It Achieve?”

  1. Aamir Ali says:
    June 20th, 2008 10:01 pm

    The long march was an attempt to bully the Parliament and force decisions of one’s own liking from it. I am glad the long march ( or short drive) was a flop.

    Pakistan does not need confrontation at this stage.

  2. Anwer says:
    June 20th, 2008 11:34 pm

    “This is cynical hypocrisy. History has still many questions for the JI: from the nefarious role in supporting army action against civilians in former East Pakistan …”

    The military action in East Pakistan was first and foremost the responsibility of the Generals in power at the time. Unfortunately, in those days the party that played the major role in bringing about the destruction of Pakistan was Peoples Party under the leader ship of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto, who had won primarily from Sindh and Punjab, did not want to sit in opposition while Awami League and other parties from West Pakistan formed a ruling coalition. This support was important; it would have been considerably more difficult for the generals to justify their actions in East Pakistan to people in West Pakistan. Here is a quote from an article on “Chowk” website:

    A few days after the elections, Gen. Yahya Khan along with some senior military generals huddled up with Bhutto in his hometown Larkana. Soon after those meetings, Bhutto took a belligerent stand against Mujib and eventually went on to tell National Assembly members to not to show up for the assembly meeting in Dacca or their legs would be broken. Then in a speech in Lahore, he came out with his famous declaration

  3. SC says:
    June 20th, 2008 11:59 pm

    A deserved didley! That is what they achieved.

  4. Eidee Man says:
    June 21st, 2008 12:40 am

    Very well written article, Raza. I also fear that good politicians like Aitzaz and Imran might end up being the casualties. Personally, I think that what started as a true movement for justice, was hijacked every few months by a different group; we had Nawaz Sharif, who holds the distinction of sending party goons to attack Sajjad Ali Shah, then we had dubious “Islamic” parties doing their classical 180-degree turns joining the fold, and lately, we saw ex-generals who had enjoyed lucrative corporate positions courtesy of Musharraf but had somehow had a change of heart during the last few months.

    I feel that Aitzaz should have kept a distance between his group and these other opportunists. The long march was also deprived of the essential fuel that had kept it alive during 2007: Musharraf’s utter stupidity. Probably the most important reason why the chief justice gained the sympathy of the masses is that the government’s draconian measures were broadcast live on television for the whole country to see. From the coverage of the long march, it seems, perhaps rather ironically, that if Musharraf had used his brain in 2007 (never mind his conscience) and simply allowed the lawyers to conduct peaceful protests, he could have nipped the movement in the bud.

    For now at least, it seems that Zardari has outfoxed the Sharif brothers. I hope the judiciary will be restored soon; the bitter pill of the so-called “constitutional package” might even be acceptable as long as it is ensured that no such grabbing of power will be allowed in the future. I hope the restored judges will get to work right away and will focus on the critical corruption and other issues, rather than on settling scores with PCO judges and other politicians; this is the only way in which they can demonstrate to the common man, the importance of having an independent judiciary.

  5. Zaka says:
    June 21st, 2008 2:59 am

    Nation divided by its corrupt politicians into various ethnic groups, can achieve = Zero

  6. Aqil Sajjad says:
    June 21st, 2008 3:41 am

    The problem here is a fundamental difference of goals between the PPP and the ‘civil society.’

    For the ppp and its supporters, the goal is to push the military out and make their own government as powerful as possible, without any checks and balances. This includes the NRO to protect their loot. All their efforts, activism, writings and “sacrifices for democracy” are primarily geared towards this basic goal.

    For the “civil society” (which has emerged as a new player), the goal is to have governments that are under appropriate checks and balances and can be held accountable. According to them, even an elected government needs to be kept under constant watch and pressure to make sure that it’s serving the people and not looting and undermining the country.

    The writer obviously belongs to the former group and hence his misgivings about the lawyers’ movement are understandable.

    This becomes very clear from the following quote from the piece:

    “What is indeed more pressing, as we are told time and again, are the sacrifices made by the honourable judges. Indeed they have altered the parameters of the state and perhaps buried the subordination of the judiciary to the all powerful executive. Well, one may ask what about Asif Zardari and his eleven and a half years in jail without a single conviction?”

    Rumi Sahib is comparing apples and oranges. CJ Iftikhar got into trouble because he was trying to give relief to the common man and for preventing the loot sale of steel mills and other such theft. Zardari got into trouble for totally different reasons; even if he had been jailed for 100 years or hanged, it would not have made him a hero. The comparison is outrightly ridiculous.

  7. Umar Akbar says:
    June 21st, 2008 10:37 am

    Actions speak louder than words, and whatever deal or sell-out has been perpetrated by leaders of the long march, will be evident soon enough.

    The Pakistani nation’s appetite for rhetoric is amazing. It must be close to two centuries now, that people have been fed vain promises of a glorious future by politicians and ‘leaders’, and yet the poor and the innocent continue to be seduced without learning any lessons at all from their mistakes of the past.

    ‘A wise man learns from other people’s mistakes, a fool from his own.’ What is he who doesn’t even learn from his own mistakes?

    Benazir and Zardari and Nawaz Sharif and their multitude of croonies have miserably failed their own so-called mandates time after time, and yet people worship them like Pirs and Pirnees. And at the same time when the NRO is being enshrined in the constitution, bicycle thieves goes to jail and the jobless commit suicide. What a country, Mr Guide!

  8. Akbar says:
    June 21st, 2008 12:22 pm

    You are being unfairly harsh. Even the Chinese long march did not bring immediate change. What the march was supposed to do was to send a clear message to Musharraf, to Zardari and to their American masters that the judges issues is still alive and is the benchmark of democracy movement in Pakistan. It did that.

    Yes, the movement has attracted some nasty characters. Certainly Jamaat i Islami is one. I think Nawaz Sharif may have actually been reformed. But the point is that this is a mark of the success of the movement that even mainstream parties now have to take this seriously. that is what we call people power.

  9. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    June 21st, 2008 3:17 pm

    Lawyers Movement to reinstate judges sacked by the military regime even after more than a year of street agitations has not bore any fruits. Why?

    Lawyers have chosen ‘street power’ tactics to force first the president and now the parliament to come around to their demands. But what is missing in this scheme is the ‘man on the street’. There is no ‘street power’ unless the ‘man on the street’ is with you.

    Lawyers need to find answer to the question that why ‘man on the street’ is not with them on this issue. It could not be simply due to the ‘lack of resources’ or because ‘the guest stars of the movement are not willing to take on the state’. As the author has stated: “Bourgeois movements rarely lead to street battles”.

    Lacking the ‘street power’ perhaps lawyers could take heed and think about adopting “the route of constitutional process” and accepting “parliamentary sovereignty”. Such a choice by lawyers may give them opportunity to bring dignity back to their profession and may be in the process regain respect of the ‘man on the street’. So for there has been nothing dignified about the ‘lawyers on the street’.

  10. Umar Akbar says:
    June 21st, 2008 5:00 pm

    Dear Akbar,

    Reference your comment:

    ‘What the march was supposed to do was to send a clear message to Musharraf, to Zardari and to their American masters that the judges issues is still alive and is the benchmark of democracy movement in Pakistan. It did that.’

    Does ‘giving a clear message’ justify the time, effort, and money spent on the lawyers’ march? Also, was this objective clearly stated before the march, or is this statement just a retrospective rationalization of the abject failure of the lawyers’ movement to restore the judges?

    And finally, are the judgest any closer to restoration now, than they were before the march?

  11. MQ says:
    June 21st, 2008 6:48 pm

    One reason some people seem to be disappointed with the

  12. Akbar says:
    June 22nd, 2008 1:09 am

    Mr. Umar Akbar asks: “Does

  13. June 22nd, 2008 2:45 am

    This blog seems to have lost its magic and better content , I used to be a regular visitor and comment contributer , however for the past few months the content particularly related to the socio-political changes in Pakistan has been below par.
    It was strange to see that there was not a single post about the long march before and during the long march, and then we see a post-martem of the long march which in my opinion is not in a good taste either.
    There are several other very hot topics including the constitutional package which needs a thorough analysis , impact of new “democratic” government on the society, and last but not the least “Mad dictator’s last days” , there could have been many other good topics e.g. a comparative of study of Mao’s long march (or other such events) and Pakistan’s long march , Nepal’s monarch’s exit vs. mad dictator’s exit…
    I am writing this as I expected this from ATP :) … they used to have good content previously..

  14. Hossp says:
    June 23rd, 2008 12:55 am

    “The puritanism of the lawyers

  15. legaleagle says:
    June 24th, 2008 3:30 am

    What did the lawyers touted long march achieve?

    A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.L.Y N.O.T.H.I.N.G!

    Has anyone seen Iftikhar Chaudary, Aitezaz Ahsan or Athar Minallah recently? Amazing, they seem to have dissapeared off the radar screen after realizing a) they are being used as political prawns by the likes of Nawaz Sharif and b) the civil society does not necessarily agree with them.

    Oh well, wisdom dawns better late then never at all!

  16. auk says:
    June 24th, 2008 10:19 pm

    The question to ask is not what the long march achieved, but why was it needed in the first place after the elections where the so called democratic forces came into power? Rumi, I don’t know how you can say that “Zardari is vilified” by the media. The only thing standing in the path towards restoration of the judges is one person, Zardari. Tell me one thing that he has done since Feb 18th, that would convince anyone that he is sincere in numerous pledges made to revert to the Nov 2nd position, visa vis the judiciary. They did not even bother to pay the deposed judges their salaries until someone brought it up in the Senate just a week ago. Actually with the just passed Finance bill, and the much talked about Constitutional amendments, it seems to state the opposite, and the dream of achieving an independent judiciary is more elusive than before.
    Why in the world do we need 29 judges of the Supreme court? United States has 9 SC judges, while a country the size of India has 24. Why did we need to resort to backdoor channels to increase the number of SC judges to this count, by not even discussing this sensitive issue in the parliament, and burying it deep in budget documents.
    I would go to the extent to say that Zardari’s rule is just a perpetuation of the military dictatorship of the last 8 years. An independent judiciary is not on his agenda, and we will see that in the coming years. The constitutional amendments are a clear evidence of this, as they aim to give indemnity to the illegal acts of Nov 3rd, and also include specific amendments to distort the anatomy of the SC so that Superior Judiciary’s wings will be clipped. With constitutional cover to raise the number of SC judges to 29, that has already happened to an extent, and even if the independent minded judges of Nov 2nd are brought back, the SC won’t be the SC of Nov 2nd.
    Zardari’s claim that Awam’s problems are Roti, Kapra and Makaan, and not an independent judiciary are also false, as shown by the just announced budget. This budget is as regressive as you can get, by increasing the sales tax percentage, whereas whole sections of the economy that can contribute to the national kitty are not taxed at all. Why in the world do we need to give a tax holiday to capital gains in the stock market, whereas a laborer who tries to buy a cellphone for Rs. 2000 will now pay a Rs 500 flat tax on it. How is that helping the poor?
    There is only one winner in this scenario; Washington DC, and the people of Pakistan are the big losers. Washington is clearly getting its way by making the elected government beg for funds, while they are openly defying Pakistan’s sovereignty and letting their man in Afghanistan go on the attack. Their handpicked man (General Mohammad Ali Durrani) is privy to every single policy decision that this government will make, by posting him as National Security Adviser to the PM of Pakistan, while Pakistanis can watch in silence.

  17. Kruman says:
    June 24th, 2008 11:28 pm

    Pejamistri raises valid points.

  18. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    June 27th, 2008 2:44 am

    @Raza Rumi,

    ” Lawyer’s Long march, what did it achieve ”

    Azrah-e-taffanun arz hay :
    Photo 1 & 4
    maidan bhara mong-phali kay kaghaz say,
    Goya, run pata para hay kuch lashon say
    Rafay Kashmiri

  19. mk khan says:
    July 11th, 2008 6:41 am

    it seems that only imran khan has emerged a true national leader just like ma jinnah.

  20. Watan Aziz says:
    June 20th, 2010 6:42 pm

    Lawyer’s Long March: What Did It Achieve?


    Any afterthoughts?

  21. Nihari says:
    June 20th, 2010 6:59 pm

    Lets have a poll
    Would we prefer
    1. The veiled dictatorship of Musharraf
    2. Current democracy of Zardai
    3. Islami Khilafat of Khalifa sharifbillah
    4. Day dreaming of Imran Khan

  22. Watan Aziz says:
    June 20th, 2010 7:58 pm

    5. 10, 000 additional judges for lower courts? Resource them with another 20,000 to 30, 0000 staffers. Provide courts with state of the art systems to automate docket. Fast track cases for cheap and speedy justice. Those who do not break laws, need justice and equity. How long is long enough?

    (BTW, this can be done overnight. It is a matter of will not resources. The real losers will be criminals and those who have accumulated power by means other than legal.)

  23. Watan Aziz says:
    June 20th, 2010 8:03 pm

    The real distinguishing factor is that there is no distinction between those who claim to be “secular” and those who claim to be “religious”.

    Absent in both is the correct understanding of what they claim to be. The alleged “religious” do not follow Qur’an or equally understand the role of Sunnah. Likewise, the alleged “secular” do not know the principles of morality, law and justice in absence of religious guidance.

    Present in both, is the denial of equity and justice for the Pakistanis.

    Nothing is more glaring, then the commonality of the usurpers evil and enlightened. Both undermined the constitution. Both destroyed justice and judiciary. Both denied justice and equity to common man. Neither true to the principles they claim they adhere. Neither even demonstrated a sense of comprehension of the correct principles of their claims (read fake claims).

    Both same, no different for Pakistanis.

Have Your Say (Bol, magar piyar say)