In response to Beena Sarwar’s article ‘ Long March- A Long View’
Dear Beena, I regret the aspersions and doubts appearing in your article for the IPS about human rights activist Tahira Abdullah’s left wing credentials. She has been the most committed activist in the lawyers’ movement. It is ironic when liberal, progressive secular activists like yourself join the chorus of RIGHT WING taking over, and it is shocking when you write the following:
‘There is also irony in progressive, secular activists like Abdullah joining hands with the emerging right-wing coalition to achieve a shared goal – the restoration of Chaudhry Ifikhar’.
KINDLY STOP DISTORTING FACTS. It is not about THE PERSON OF CJ Iftikhar Chaudhary. It is about the symbolism he embodies. It is to reverse the legitimacy given to the illegal action of dictator Musharraf on 3, November 2007. It is against the continuation of the same ‘Prostitution of Constitution’, and continuation of the same messy policies of the Establishment.
So who is LEFT WING in Pakistan ? This PPP and ANP lot who:
Joined hands with ultra Islamist Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, gave his JUI(F) federal ministries
To get Fazl-ur-Rehman’s support, re-opened the extremist Madrassah Fareediya
Made jirga, Karo Kari, burying women alive notorious Bijrani and Zehri federal ministers
Bartered away Swat, Malakand, part of Hazara, Dir and Chitral to the Taliban
Enforced Shariah through Nizam-i- Adl.
The Right Wing was there when the lawyers movement started in 2007, so what was the leftist PPP doing supporting the lawyers then and why were you a part of it? You know very well the lawyers have been supported not JUST by the PML(N) and the MMA parties, but also LARGELY by an assorted array of progressive, left-oriented political organizations and civil society groups, including the Anjuman Mazarain Pakistan, Awami Party, Awami Jamhuri Party, Awami Jamhuri Ittehad, Communist Party, Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party, Labour Party Pakistan, Insani Huqooq Ittehad, Khudai Khidmatgaar, People’s Rights Movement, Joint Action Committee for Citizens Rights, Women’s Action Forum , Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Aurat Foundation, ASR, AGHS, Christian Study Centre, Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation, PIPFPD, PODA, Sungi Development Foundation, Strengthening Participatory Organisation, Simorgh, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Shirkat Gah and most of all the miorities leader J.Salik.
Tahira has always stood for progressive values and principles. If she is there in the movement, she is fully aware of and committed to the principles involved. In this she is not alone; she is in good company with progressive and leftist stalwarts like Kishwar Naheed, Asma Jehangir, Shehnaz Ahmad, Amina Piracha (a die-hard PPP member) and hosts of others.
This article presents an intentional distorted view of the reality of the lawyers’ movement. It would be sad if such distorted views were to undermine the lawyers’ movement at this critical juncture.And for what? Zardari led ‘PPP?’ Where Benazir’s closest allies Naheed Khan and Safdar Abbassi are actively taking part in the Long March, Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman have resigned, Aitezaz Ahsan and Enwar Baig have been side lined from the party.
The greatest Left Wing Coalition is un-elected Zardari-Salman Taseer- Farooq Naek sharing the same bed with Maulana Faz lu Rehman????
Analysis by Beena Sarwar
Mar 12, 2009 (IPS) – Barely a year after being elected, the Pakistan government faces a political storm involving a street agitation spearheaded by lawyers and opposition political parties allied with religious parties.
Lurking on the sidelines is an army unused to civilian command even as religious militants create havoc around the country.
None of this is new to Pakistan but many find it all the more painful given the hopes built up by last year’s general elections. On Feb 18, 2009, Pakistani voters overwhelmingly supported non-religious parties and rejected those that had been propped up by the army.
The electorate’s rejection of the religious parties and the joining hands of the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and her former rival Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) raised expectations of an end to political confrontation and religion-based politics – and the army moving away from politics.
These expectations followed decades of misrule and exploitation of religion for political purposes. The Pakistani establishment, at Washington’s behest, strengthened armed militancy, exploiting religious sentiments to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan during the 1980s. In the process they created `Jihad International’ , as the late scholar Dr Eqbal Ahmad termed it.
This may now be the biggest threat facing Pakistan – and the world – since the attack on the World Trade Center on Sep. 11 2001. Since then Washington has pushed Islamabad to fight the very forces of militant Islam that both together had fostered and strengthened.
Resultantly, this country has, as Pakistanis point out, suffered the most from militant attacks.
In this situation, political instability is distracting at best and dangerous at worst. The `long march’ demanding the reinstatement of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry, spearheaded by the legal fraternity and sections of civil society, has ready allies among the right-wing political opposition.
This includes Sharif’s PML-N and the Jamaat-e-Islami, a mainstream religious party sympathetic to militant Islam, as well as others sympathetic to the Taliban, like ex-chief Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and anti-India hawk Gen. (retd.) Hamid Gul, retired bureaucrat Roedad Khan who brutally quashed political opposition during the Zia years, and cricket hero-turned politician Imran Khan, chief of the Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice).
All these forces boycotted the 2008 polls, except Sharif who rescinded his boycott decision after Bhutto convinced him that elections were the only way forward.
Long-festering tensions between the PPP and PML-N came to a head with a Supreme Court ruling of Feb 25 barring Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from holding elected office. Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari is widely believed to be behind this controversial ruling.
The disgruntled Sharifs, already pushing to restore Chief Justice Choudhry, have flung themselves wholeheartedly into the long march – a move that observers do not see as entirely altruistic since their stated aims include effecting regime change.
“Sharif’s attempts to paint himself as a radical, grassroots activist are at odds with his political origins,” commented former lawyer and Australia-based analyst Mustafa Qadri, writing about the opportunity Pakistan’s politicians of all hues have wasted in their “refusal to look beyond personal power games and provincialism to develop the nation’s still embryonic democracy”.
The Sharifs gained prominence as businessmen patronised by General Zia -ul-Haq who was behind Pakistan’s “transformation from majority-Muslim nation to Islamic state with more conservative religious seminaries per capita than any other country in the world,” as Qadri put it (`Long march to nowhere’, The Guardian, Mar 10, 2009).
The current imbroglio comes on the heels of loaded statements by Gen. (retd) Pervez Musharraf who during a visit to India last week, gave several talks and interviews in which he hinted at a possible political comeback.
Curiously Musharraf, who stepped down as president in August 2008, urged New Delhi to stop `bashing’ the Pakistan army and the shadowy ISI since, according to him, they were the best defence against the growth of the Taliban and militancy in Pakistan.
President Zardari has invited comparisons to Musharraf because of his government’s use of police force and mass arrests to prevent the long march, as Musharraf did after suspending Choudhry in March 2007 and imposing Emergency rule in Nov 2007.
The irony is illustrated by the recent three-hour detention of the firebrand women’s rights and political activist, Tahira Abdullah, who has been mobilising the lawyers’ movement from her home in Islamabad.
She faced police batons and tear gas in the Zia and Musharraf eras. A day before the long march began, a police contingent arrived at her house and virtually broke down her kitchen door.
However, her arrest attracted media attention, embarrassing the government into quickly ordering her release. An undeterred Abdullah immediately resumed mobilising for the agitation.
“It is sad and ironic that the PPP government has come to this,” she told IPS. “They said it was preventive detention. They can’t catch people like (Taliban leaders) Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah but they send police after me, a very ordinary person.”
There is also irony in progressive, secular activists like Abdullah joining hands with the emerging right-wing coalition to achieve a shared goal, the restoration of Choudhry.
Civil society activists privately admit that otherwise their numbers are too small to reach the critical mass needed to effect political change.
“There are only a handful of us,” one of them told IPS. “And there are no more than 100,000 lawyers in the country. So we have to join hands with political forces who agree with us on this matter even if we don’t agree on other matters. We know they are using us, but we are also using them.”
Observers like the political economist and former student activist S.M. Naseem fear that this kind of mutual `using’ could push Pakistan further towards right-wing forces.
Disappointed by the performance of the government as well as the opposition, he holds that the lawyers’ movement has missed the opportunity of creating a new polity in the country. “They should have broadened the agenda to create a new political system,” he told IPS. “Two years for the restoration of one person (Choudhry), however, honest and bold, is a bit too much.”
PM Gillani has said that he cannot, in all conscience, oppose the long march. “We have also participated in street agitations and long marches,” he said. “How can we stop anyone else from exercising their democratic right to do so?”
This stand appears to pit him against President Zardari, holding an office strengthened by pas t military dictators. The President’s powers include being able to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve government – as several presidents before him have done. This is unlikely to happen now. For Zardari to take such a step would mean dismissing his own government.
Having recently obtained a majority in the Senate, the PPP can conceivably push through the constitutional amendments it proposed in May 2008 for which a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and the Senate is required. These amendments include the removal of the 17th amendment that allows the President to dismiss government.
Moves towards reconciliation between the PPP and the PML-N continue behind the scenes, even as the long march kicks off with lawyers and political activists from various cities heading towards Islamabad to converge by Mar. 6 for a dharna (or sit-in) `until the Chief Justice is restored’.
Observers fear a breakout of violence even though the long march leaders have promised to keep matters peaceful.
Observers fear a breakout of violence even though the long march leaders have promised to keep matters peaceful.