Friday, November 23, 2007

To trust or not to trust


It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact is that President General Pervez Musharraf appears to have weathered the immediate post-emergency storm. Initial foreign pressure emanating from European stalwarts of democracy seems to have receded in view of Musharraf’s indispensability to the United States being the man who controls the Pakistani Army, which, apart from making the usual expected noises on the matter, continues to be largely concerned with its own needs rather than the global development of democratic institutions Although internal resistance continues to be offered by the legal fraternity, students community and members of civil society, a definite polling date of Jan 8 has been announced and most political parties, in spite of maintaining the charade of being unequivocally opposed to the emergency and subsequent measures, have started preparations for elections.

The PPP, whose chairperson Benazir, was until recently calling for nation-wide protest movements, has predictably softened her stance on Musharraf and elections following a visit by the US Deputy of State John Negroponte; delivering the American wish that she should cooperate with the general - hence the declaration expressing her readiness to work with Musharraf and a review (read reversal) of the party’s decision to boycott the upcoming elections. The only person to remain truly steadfast on the emergency issue is Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf chairman, Imran Khan, who has emerged as the unscathed leader of the anti-Musharraf camp, by going on a hunger strike in jail and calling for mass-scale mobilization of the students.

This is not the first time that Khan has pinned his hopes on the youth, particularly in Punjab. When he first entered politics in the 90s, he expected widespread support from the younger voters, largely as a result of the popularity he enjoyed as a cricketing icon. Unfortunately for him, the Pakistani public reacted the same way as their Indian counterparts when it came to treatment of celebrity icons who delve into politics. The overwhelming reception that was accorded to Khan during his visit to LUMS suggests however, that that the trend might be changing. In his address to LUMS students, Khan talked at length about the role of youth in the transformation of Pakistan, concluding with a stern reminder, that students had to as of yet, play a role in the post-March 9 movement.

At a time when questions about the effectiveness of the protest movement are being raised within the student’s body, Khan’s followers can take heart from the 1969 largely student-sponsored anti-Ayub movement. What lacked then, was a sincere leader, with a post-Ayub vision, who could after Ayub’s departure, usher a progressive change in national politics. Hence the student movement that began remained ill defined, resulting in a eventual breakdown of the state that culminated finally with the East Pakistan tragedy.

Another retaliatory student movement that emerged was that of ‘Muhajir’ identity politics. The MQM, originally having the ethnic nomenclature of Muhajir Qaumi Mahaz, was born out of the APMSO, which was formed by Karachi University student leaders belonging to lower and middle income brackets. They were able to mobilize staggering support among the Urdu-speaking and Gujrati-speaking populace of urban Sindh with the aim to be represented in assemblies against all odds. It is another matter, that once elected, these students exhibited all the tendencies and practices of the very feudal lords that they had initially set out to challenge.

The above instances show that even in feudal politics-dominated, illiterate, Pakistan it is possible for students to achieve victories with will and courage. However, the post-Ayub scenario also demonstrates, that it is necessary to have an objective vision, apart from merely ousting of a military ruler through street protests in order to prevent the country from falling into the wrong hands yet again. The dilemma that poses students and civil society members is whether to trust military backed, corrupt political players with shady track records who claim to be against the current establishment and working for democracy in the country. The PPP’s two-fold strategy reflects the cynical reality, that political parties are merely riding on the coat tails of popular public dissent at Musharraf so to obtain votes by attempting to use students and protestors as a tool to pressurize the government into compromise. History shows, that boycotting the elections may not bode well for such parties (PPP in 1985, MQM in 1993), yet such a boycott will reflect the strength of the resistance. By participating in the upcoming elections these parties, contrary to their alleged stances, are giving a tacit acceptance acceptance to conditions under the state of emergency and recognition to the elections.

If such opposition political parties are devoid of principles, then what exactly are the students then fighting for? Simple ‘restoration of democracy’ will only result in sham elections that bring back the same governments that failed people in their promises, for there is way in present elections, that minor parties like the PTI, hampered by lack of capable personnel within the party and mass public following, can pull off a landslide in the elections. The hour’s need most, is the realization that the journey to radical political reformation will not end after the ousting of the current military rule. Only a collective resolve by students and civil society will fill the abyss of political bankruptcy and make such fickle political parties accountable for their promises.

Whether Imran Khan is the messiah we have been waiting for, is a conclusion to soon to judge. Whether he is even capable of mobilizing the intelligentsia and the youth, is something only time will tell. What we do know is that, we do set aside out political apathy and cynicism, and armed with a new resolve rid our politics of prevailing feudal- military system, there is no hope.


Anonymous said...

Nice article. But one thing you are missing here is that thsi fight is and should be for an independent judiciary and the continuity of lawyers movement which Muneer A. Malik had named: "Raaj kare gi khalq e Khuda"
Once the judiciary is independent, these sham politicians will be very much restrained in their corruption and other norms of injustice taht they have been practicing for so long.

Anonymous said...

A very good insight. But like said in the earlier comment as well - the stress should also be on the independent Judicary.

The Neem Revolution said...

Good analysis, but you missed the most important point. The students and the rest of civil society are fighting, foremost, for the restoration of the judiciary. Until that is achieved, elections are pointless, electoral victories mean nothing, the entire process means nothing.

Anonymous said...

This has been a terrible crisis for Pakistan, but it might be a blessing in disguise. Atleast people are starting to wake from the apathetic slumber we all were in. You are right, we need to think of the long term. Imran might not have mass support but one thing I know is that he sure has earned my vote.

Anonymous said...

Anyone got a video of Khan's address? Or text?

Pakistan Affairs Desk said...

Here is Khan on NPR (US Radio)