Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A student movement?

It is not yet a student movement but at least the student community is in motion and ferment again after a lapse of a couple of decades. Whether this will develop into a movement is still to be seen. Students who had been absent, during the period from March to November in the struggle for the rule of law and for the freedom of the press, were suddenly galvanised by the events of 3rd November and the subsequent destruction of the constitution and the judiciary by Gen Musharraf. This is all the more remarkable as these students are primarily from the elite universities whom one would think have benefited most from the consumer boom and the neo-liberal policies of Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz. It is easy to be cynical about this embryo movement but there has already been one very significant and positive development and that is the fact that after nearly forty years the hold of the IJT on the Punjab University Campus seems to be broken. It is astonishing how rapidly the “hawa” of the IJT collapsed with the visit of Imran Khan to PU. In retrospect it is clear that the political atmosphere there had changed and it only required a trigger to precipitate that change. That trigger was provided by Imran’s visit. For the first time girls at PU are able to voice their opinions without the fear of the IJT goondas.

A few days ago I attended a meeting of students, from various universities in Lahore, who are organising the student demonstrations against Musharraf and for the restoration of the pre 3rd of November Supreme Court. The students, like other sectors of society, are demonstrating for the withdrawal of Emergency, restoration of the Constitution will all fundamental rights, for a free judiciary, removal of judges appointed under the infamous PCO and the withdrawal of the ban and restrictions on all print and electronic media. They see these minimum steps as prerequisites to re-establishing the rule of law in this country, so blatantly violated by Musharraf, and to ensuring that there will be free and fair elections.

The meeting took me back forty years to when I attended meetings of the Students for a Democratic Society, the famous SDS, at the University of Chicago. The SDS originally was concerned with civil rights issues, like the condition of Black Americans and the question of free speech (recall the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, led by Mario Savio). It later became the leading student group against the war on most US campuses. Its working strategy was based on participatory democracy and direct action. It was characterised by radicalism and student power. It had a strong belief in decentralisation and a distrust for most organisation and operated on a meagre budget and did not have a strong central bureaucracy. The meeting in Lahore reflected many of these aspects of the SDS. The same idealistic, youthful faces, chaotic meeting, no acceptance of leaders, wariness of leaders within the student movement and without, a multitude of different positions, a fear of the major parties using the student movement for their own purposes, hours and hours of discussion before any decision was taken, the striving for consensus and the stress on non-violence.

Following this meeting I participated in the student demonstration at Liberty Chowk on Friday the 30th. It was wonderful to see the youthful energy, the enthusiasm and the idealism of these students. It was the more surprising in that the majority of these students belonged to the well off classes, coming mostly from elite universities like LUMS, FAST, BNU with very few from PU for example. For me what is amazing is that these students are coming out to protest not for themselves per se (they are pretty well off and their future is assured) but for democratic principles and to safeguard the future of Pakistan. Unlike the SDS’s Free Speech Movement, which was for the right of free speech on campuses, or the anti-Vietnam movement, which was fuelled by the fear of the draft, Pakistani students are taking a stand on principles, which they rightly believe are necessary for a democratic and modern Pakistan. They see that the future of Pakistan is inexorably linked with democracy and the rule of law and for the end of military rule, whether direct or disguised. I do not here intend to belittle the SDS because not only did it play a vital role in the anti-Vietnam war movement but in spite of being essentially a white middle class organisation based in the elite universities (Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, Berkeley) it did actively make civil rights for Black Americans a central part of its programme and activities.

It is very easy to be critical of these upper class students. But from what I saw they are sincere in their wish to see Pakistan a democratic and just society. However, unlike the SDS which took up the cause of the disenfranchised and oppressed black population of the States, the student movement in Pakistan, much like the rest of the so-called civil society (a phrase which I dislike as it doesn’t mean anything; are others uncivil?), has not yet talked about the tremendous poverty in this country and has not yet taken up the issues of economic and social justice. The history of the SDS was different as it grew out of a socialist educational organisation. In contrast to the SDS, the Students Action Committee in Lahore is fairly heterogeneous, with very few students who consider themselves “leftists” (socialism is still a taboo word). However I had the impression that the leading role was being taken by progressive students. There were students, at the meeting, who could be classified as “rightists”. But these are early days and there is the need for unity of action concentrated on immediate issues of democracy and justice. Nevertheless some students who believe that the struggle should be linked to issues of social and economic justice have formed a more restricted Progressive Student Action Committee.

Given the class background of most of these students, they are still wary of taking direct action on the streets unlike the legal community and journalists. Most of the action has been limited to protests on campus but recently in Lahore there have been two major demonstrations on the streets organised by students, one a march from the Press Club to the Geo offices on Davis Road and the other the demonstration at Liberty. However there have been small quick `guerrilla’ actions by a handful of students. The students are not yet prepared to really go on the streets, like for example protest on the Mall and stop the traffic. They do not want a confrontation with the police, even in a non-violent manner.

Another interesting fact already mentioned above is that from March till 3rd November students as a group did not take active part in the protests. True there were individual students who were very active in Islamabad in front of the Supreme Court during all this time but they were there as individuals. But November 3 produced a qualitative change in that students joined the protests collectively. Something clicked at that point. As usual there are coincidental, contingent reasons for this change, e.g. the fact that some LUMS teachers happened to be at the HRCP office in Lahore on the 4th of November when the police arrived to break up the meeting and arrest the participants, including the LUMS teachers. This is what triggered student activism at LUMS and focussed the minds of students on the nature of the Musharraf regime. If there had not been this incident I doubt if LUMS students would have protested. But history is full of contingent causes.

In spite of these limitations I believe that the involvement of students is a very positive step towards the establishment of democracy and justice in Pakistan. I don’t want to overestimate the nascent student movement but neither do I want to downplay its significance. There is a call by the Students Action Committee for a nationwide student protest on 4th December. Students in the major cities of Pakistan are linking up and the success or otherwise of this protest day will tell us about the real strength of this movement and the prospects of its growth. One of the demands, which is beginning to be formulated, is student specific and that is for lifting the ban on student unions. In my opinion student unions are a healthy expression of student aspirations. Students are an important conscious element of society and their collective voice should be heard.

Another fact worth noting is that the lawyers and journalists movement has been joined not only by the usual suspects, NGOs and `civil society’ organisations and now students but also, perhaps surprisingly, by young professionals particularly in the IT sector. Both students and IT professionals are characterised by the fact that they belong to the modern Internet linked world. They have access to world media, particularly alternate media and this has broadened their perspectives on Pakistan. They are in a better position to situate Pakistan in the larger world context and are able to see how other countries and societies benefit from a democratic dispensation. Although the vast majority of the poor working classes are missing from this movement it is significant and a very positive development that at least some segments of the educated section of society are concerned with justice and democracy and do not just think of their own immediate welfare.

Within the last couple of years two events have given me hope for the future of Pakistan. The first event was the tremendous response by the people of Pakistan to the tragedy of the October 2005 earthquake. There was a huge aid effort mounted by ordinary people to help their fellow citizens in Kashmir and NWFP. But what I want to stress here is the response of the children of the elite. Students from all schools and universities, be they state or private, mobilised to collect relief and transport this to the affected areas. My point here is that the rich upper class students of institutions like LUMS, whom one would have suspected to have been immune to the suffering of the poor, also made large and significant contributions. I don’t want to make too much of this as I know that they still belong to the exploiting classes and when they went home after doing all the charity work they still had their drivers and servants. They didn’t think about raising their salaries or treating them better. But at least there is still a spark alive in them which allowed them to see for a moment the fellow humanity of the poor people affected by the earthquake. One can of course dismiss the earthquake charity work as noblesse oblige but I think it is more than that.

The earthquake relief effort by poor and rich alike from as far as Baluchistan and Sindh demonstrated that the ordinary people of Pakistan have a sense of unity. The earthquake brought out the feeling that we all, who live on this piece of earth, are in this together and we have to support and help each other. This feeling was more real and worth much more than all the platitudes mouthed by our dictators about national unity while they continue to bomb and kill their own fellow citizens.

The second series of events that give me hope for Pakistan is the response to the removal of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March and the whole movement for the establishment of the rule of law and the end of one-man military rule in Pakistan. The fact that the educated conscious segment of society has come out for the defence of principles rather than personal short term gains is a good harbinger for the future of Pakistan. It is easy to say where are the masses? Does one forget so easily the thousands who came out to cheer and welcome the CJ on his drive from Islamabad to Lahore and the large crowds who gathered to listen to him wherever he went? These were not just lawyers. There were many ordinary citizens who realised that this was a historical period in Pakistan where for the first time the judiciary had stood up to defend the rule of law and its own institution against the arbitrary actions of a military dictator. The fact that students have joined them, even in limited numbers, is of great significance. Student activism on campus should be welcomed because for too long students have become apolitical and only interested in their own careers. If these events trigger even a few minds to think about the broader social and political problems of this country it will be a major positive development. For too long university campuses have become sterile without a semblance of debate. It is time that campuses again reverberate to fervent passionate debate and become breeding grounds for people who want to promote progressive social and political change in Pakistan.

Faheem Hussain
Visiting Professor of Physics
School of Science and Engineering


shah said...

Dear Prof Fahim, Is this the movement of LUMS led by Mr. Imran Khan brown sahibs??

kkahn8 said...

Prof Fahim, you talk of condemning censorship, the first hurdle I face on your site is your selectivity of posts. Doff of your tyranny in your little world and open your blog without censor.

Anonymous said...

The rape of the justice began with present 'democratic leaders of the civil society.

CJP Doogar has learned the game from the learned Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui.

..''The dissident judges, who do not acknowledge Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as chief justice, issued a fresh cause list for 15 members' full court session. The full court, headed by Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, took up petitions questioning the validity of chief justice's appointment.'

Nawaz Sharif & Shah Tussle

Mr. Shah was the lone dissenter in the 11-member bench whose decision restored Mr. Nawaz Sharif to power in May 1993 after he had been booted out by the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.Also Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah ordered the release of some civil servants who were arrested by order of the Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif,Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah also had both plaques, the English and the Urdu versions of the "Objectives Resolution", removed from the hallowed walls of the Supreme Court which still remain bare.All these factors became the starting point of a long tussle between the two men. The first confrontation by Nawaz Sharif was the establishment of special Courts, which were established in contravention of the Chief Justices judicious advice. These special courts, which were established to benefit the Prime Minister's allies and supporters, eventually proved to be a humiliating blot on the face of justice in Pakistan.Later on when the Chief Justice wanted to fill the 5 vacant positions of judges to be able to carry out the business of dispensing justice in a speedy manner, the Prime Minister not only refused to grant the request but went ahead and abolished those vacancies altogether. He had to restore the positions under pressure but refused to fill them up.

[edit] Judges Vs.Judges

In his self-imposed war against the Chief Justice,Nawaz Sharif succeeded in dividing the judges into two camps. The group of judges that sided with the Prime Minister said openly that if Justice Sajjad Ali Shah gives up trying cases against Mian Nawaz Sharif, they will accept him as the Chief Justice. The infamous Article 58(2)(b) a.k.a Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan was restored and suspended within minutes by two separate benches of the apex court assembled against each other.A 3 member bench headed by Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah suspended the operation of the Thirteenth Amendment restoring the powers of the president to dissolve the National Assembly, a verdict which was within minutes set aside by another 10-member bench.The 10-member bench headed by Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui granted stay against the chief justice's order minutes after it was passed, even without receiving any formal petition or the copy of the order. All efforts to resolve the judicial crisis failed as both the judges' groups stuck to their stance and issued separate cause lists.The dissident judges, who do not acknowledge Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as chief justice, issued a fresh cause list for 15 members' full court session. The full court, headed by Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, took up petitions questioning the validity of chief justice's appointment.

[edit] The Stand off with Quetta Bench of The Supreme Court

Quetta bench of the apex court held the appointment of Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah in abeyance till further orders and restrained him from performing judicial and administrative functions. The bench also held in abeyance the operation of the notification of June 5, 1994 issued by the president appointing Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, declared the order of the two-member Supreme Court bench at Quetta "without lawful authority", and directed the assistant registrar, Quetta registry, not to fix any case before the two judges till further orders.Justice Shah, whose appointment as the chief justice was held in abeyance by the two-member bench, continued working as the chief justice of Pakistan.In his order the chief justice observed that under Order XXV of the Supreme Court Rules, 1980, a petition under Article 184(3) under the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was to be filed only at the principal seat and not at any other registry.He said;

In this respect there are orders and directions that if any such petition under that provision Article 184(3) is filed at any other registry,it is to be forwarded straight-away to the principal seat for orders to be obtained from the chief justice for its fixation before a proper bench.

He observed that if any orders had been passed in that petition they should be deemed to have not taken effect for the reason that proper procedure had been followed.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah further stated that even registration number could not be given to such petitions at the registry without the permission or express orders of the chief justice. The CJ directed that the record of the above mentioned petition may be summoned immediately from Quetta Registry for placement before him for further orders in this respect.

Justice Shah further observed that "honourable" judges present at the Quetta registry had acted without lawful authority and directed the assistant registrar of Quetta registry not to fix cases before them for disposal until further orders.

It is the second instance in the judicial history of Pakistan when two judges of the Supreme Court were asked not to perform their duties. Earlier in 1996, two ad hoc judges of the Supreme Court were asked by the same chief justice not to perform their judicial functions .The Quetta bench of the Supreme Court later held that the impugned executive order of the Chief Justice is nullity and is to be ignored. The bench also over-ruled the executive order of Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah regarding not fixing the cases before it.

When the proceedings of the court started, it was pointed out to the bench that a fax has been received from Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah with the direction to the Assistant Registrar, Quetta Registry that no case should be fixed for hearing before the said bench until further orders.One of the senior judge observed that;

it is misconduct on the part of Chief Justice as none of the Supreme Court judge can be restrained from the work on executive order and said that judicial order had already suspended the Chief Justice to perform his duties as Chief Justice.

The full bench after ignoring the orders of the Chief Justice disposed off 10 cases. These cases were fixed before the bench by Advocate General Balochistan and counsels of different petitioners. The court had also ordered the Chief Justice of Pakistan that he should not perform his judicial and administrative duties as Chief Justice till the decision of the said bench regarding the petition. Notices in this regard had been issued to Attorney General, Deputy Attorney general and others.The Supreme Court's circuit bench at Peshawar endorsed the verdict of the Quetta bench on a petition challenging the appointment of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as chief justice of Pakistan.But Justice Sajjad Ali Shah persevered and continued hearing the contempt case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Finally that infamous attack on the Supreme Court on November 28, 1997 took place.

Anonymous said...

the movement at lums is not led by anyone.

Anonymous said...

I am software engineer and very happy that our teach and our fellow is now behaving....
I am with you guy....