Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Politicians vs. Military Dictators

Academics For Freedom
Much of the week since the imposition of martial law has been dedicated to a voicing of outrage and protest from almost all quarters. However, just as many voices have been heard pointing out that while they are unhappy with what Musharraf has done, they are not ready to accept the politicians. And based on this they go so far as to express their lack of desire to see a return to democracy in Pakistan because it promises to bring politicians back to the helm. This simple logic has had many middle and upper-middle class Pakistanis refrain from an outright condemnation of Musharraf for what he has gone and done.

It isn’t entirely surprising that people in Pakistan should be questioning the role and the utility of politicians in the governance process. Their record has been sullied, to say the least, for except for Bhutto Senior’s 7 years, they have presided over Pakistan during its most unstable times – 1947-58 and 1988-99. Beyond the memory of these ineffective periods of rule, however, this argument against politicians is entirely superficial, stands on extremely shaky ground, and is the trademark of those who find thinking an extremely arduous and unnecessary task. Here’s why.

First, I would be more than willing to give this argument some tiny measure of credit, were it not for the answer to some simple questions: who does Musharraf have with him? Who is sitting in his puppet Parliament? Who forms the crux of his support in the PML-Q? The simple answer – politicians. If Musharraf were governing alone, as a one-man legislature (not to say he does not come dangerously close to looking like that at most times, given that so much of the Parliament’s work has happened through ordinances in the last 8 years), one may be able to adopt a “general vs. politician” stance. But given that he entrenched himself and his authority through the creation of a “king’s party”, the PML-Q (made up of politicians), and is the President with a Prime Minister and a full Parliament, it is entirely unintelligent to argue that we are at present living without politicians. Therefore, if your worry, at any level, regards what it would mean to have to deal with politicians once again should elections be held or a democratic process initiated, you shouldn’t be too worried because you have been dealing with them since the 2002 election. In fact, you have been dealing with the worst of them – a type of politician who saw it only right to change political parties to maintain personal power, and who saw no issues in selling his/her soul to the devil for a shot at a good ministerial position. Current politicians of the PML-Q abandoned their parties and their principles by the dozens and were in turn rewarded by Musharraf, our one great hope for the cleaning up of politics in this country, through the creation of what is apparently the largest cabinet in the world. It makes sense. If there are so many politicians cutting deals, you might as well have as many ministerial positions as possible to use as awards. So if it’s politicians you are worried about, they have been with us, alive and thriving, for the last 5 years.

Second, and as Musharraf has obviously realised, what would you do without politicians? It is entirely easy to dismiss politicians as an unnecessary complication in the process of governance. But really, how does governance happen without them? By saying that we are unwilling to return to the era of politicians, are we saying that we have in mind a form of governance that does not require the popular, political mandate, that has no need for a parliament (for parliament is, by definition, made up of politicians), and whose entire legislative process (for the politically naive, the process of coming up with laws for the country) is based around one man? We might as well go on then to argue that we should introduce to the world an alternate governance process in which each new Chief of Army Staff automatically becomes the legislature until death do us part. We should also clarify that we feel no real reason to ever have to waste time in ascertaining popular will, and that we have no particular need for being counted in the process of governing a country. We might as well argue for the restoration of a monarchy, or better still, a much closer memory, for a return to colonial rule, under which no one had to bother with trying to determine the difference between a citizen and a subject. This isn’t a far-fetched notion in any sense of the word, for as long as one talks of independence, a constitution and a Parliament, one has to talk of politicians.

This brings us to the third point. Our major worry about politicians is essentially with respect to two particular politicians – Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Therefore, our vision of governance in Pakistan is that of a boxing ring, in one corner of which stands Musharraf, and in the other stand Bhutto and Sharif, sometimes holding hands, at other times pushing each other around, and at yet others simply tossing each other over the ropes. Our job as spectators is to choose one side over the other, without ever bothering with the dimensions and construction of the ring, or even with the rules of the game. Our worry is simply the personalities and not the processes that define the parameters of the game. That is why we are able to say which personality/politician/ruler we prefer over another, without sparing a minute to place those people within any framework defined by an ideology, or even a larger process.

The point is simple. If Bhutto or Sharif come to power within a system that has changed little since the last time they were in power, our condemnation for that system need be only slightly less severe than it is for martial law. This is because the system would still be defined by instability, by the need of politicians to dance to the tunes of the army, and by imperatives that require that everyone except the voting populace be kept happy at all costs. Under such a system, our greatest worry would continue to be the army and its complete control over our lives. This debate, therefore, has little to do with personalities or with whether we prefer politicians over military rulers, and has everything to do with the process and form of governance we want to live under as independent, self-respecting citizens of Pakistan.

LUMS Hunger strike..Pictures

Students at LUMS continue protest..

Lahore, 13.11.2007: Undaunted by exam week, the students of LUMS held a candle light vigil and a hunger strike Tuesday as part of Black Week at the university in protest against the excesses committed by the government in the past week and a half in the name of emergency law.The hunger strike lasted for four hours, with about fifty students gathered outside the Pepsi Dining Centre with their books and notes.Later in the evening, more than 80 students gathered for a candlelight vigil in the lane between the cafeteria and the academic block(this lane is soon to be renamed Justice Lane in a formal ceremony).The entire area was illuminated by softly glowing candles, which spelt out demands to reinstate the Judiciary and free the media in the country. The students gathered around the candles in a circle as speeches were made to protest the current injustice and call upon students all over the nation to unite and persevere in their struggleagainst emergency rule. The speakers expressed solidarity with all the students protesting in different parts of the country, especially withthe students in Islamabad who were beaten and arrested by the police on 12th November. A fund was also set up in order to finance the protest campaign and the students were seen contributing generously towards it. The ceremony concluded with a joint prayer for peace,prosperity and justice in Pakistan.

Imran Khan beaten up and arrested..

Courtesy Dawn
Imran Khan Defiant in arrest
LAHORE, Pakistan, Nov 14 (AFP) Former Pakistan cricketer and chief of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf Imran Khan told AFP from police custody he was trying to start a student movement against emergency rule when he was arrested on Wednesday after more than a week in hiding. “I came to the university to lead a rally of students against the dictator Musharraf and his illegal actions,” Khan said. “I would have presented myself for arrest in full public view but my goal was to set in motion a student movement.” Khan spoke to AFP by telephone shortly after he was detained while trying to lead a rally at Lahore’s Punjab University. He said he was betrayed by a group of students. “The majority of the students were with me there but a group of them from Islami-Jamiat-Tuliba collaborated with the administration and police,” Khan said. “They took me into the office and then forced me out into a van. They did not allow me to be arrested publicly.” He added: “I have achieved my purpose. I have started the student movement, I have set the tone for it.” Police earlier confirmed they had arrested Khan and would place him back under house arrest, which he slipped out from more than a week ago.

Lahore heats up..

Lahore is once again the centre of excitement. Yesterday, some 3,500police officers deployed around the city arrested hundreds of PPPworkers. Riot police officers were outside government buildings hereas well, in anticipation of protests by PPP supporters. Benazir hascalled for Musharraf to resign and vowed that her `long march' will continue. Many more human rights activists and lawyers in the cityhave been arrested over the last couple of days.
IPS REPORTS ON PAKISTAN: Scroll down for my report filed to IPS todayabout Musharraf under pressure (unedited), up on www.ipsnews.netsoon (Includes KU vigil info). Two very timely stories on Pakistanthat mine intersects with -the implications of yesterday's Commonwealth statement:
PAKISTAN:Join the Army, Stage a Coup, Retire as President -
POLITICS: Gagged at Home, Pakistanis Take to Cyberspace (by AbidAslam) - Pakistan Trouble link at IPS has several others.

Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry awarded Harvard 'Medal of Freedom'

Following last week's military crackdown in Pakistan and the detention of hundreds of lawyers, the Harvard Law School Association has decided to award Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry its highest honor: The Harvard Law School Medal of Freedom. Chaudhry was detained after he convened the Pakistani Supreme Court to declare the current state of emergency imposed by General Pervez Musharraf to be null and void.Although Chaudhry has been placed under house arrest and is not free to leave Pakistan, Dean Elena Kagan has reached out to the chief justice regarding the award and hopes that he'll be able to come to the Law School to receive it when the state of emergency is lifted."As lawyers who value freedom and the rule of law, we at Harvard Law School want Chief Justice Chaudhry and all of the courageous lawyers in Pakistan to know that we stand with them in solidarity," said Kagan. "We are proud to be their colleagues in the cause of justice, and we will do all we can to press for the prompt restoration of constitutionalism and legality in Pakistan."

Vigil at Karachi University

The first Karachi University vigil against imprisonment of thousands of people against emergency was held on Nov 13 at 1pm outside Audio Visual Centre, KU. 23 teachers and students participated.We were wearing black arm-bands and held a banner that read 'Restore Constitution, Judiciary and Human Rights'. A number of Rangers were deployed by the administration around the place of demonstration and they blocked the path leading to the main road. The vigil was organised by United Teachers Forum. After the vigil teachers and students gathered at a teachers office and discussed ways to bring more people to the demonstrations to be held in near future. Some five students then came to the meeting and asked for teachers help in organizing the students, this was highly welcomed by all the present. Some teachers offered the students to come to their classes and speak to the students about the need to act against military rule. As usual the protest demos by LUMS students came into the discussion several times. United Teachers Forum has announced to organise a lecture by senior journalist and highly respected peace and pro-democracy intellectual Mr M B Naqvi on Thursday November 15 at 11:30 am at the Arts Auditorium, his topic will be Popular Struggles against Draconian Laws (with emphasis on media freedom). UTF welcomes all teachers, students and pro-academics to attend the seminar. for entry details contact Dr Riaz Ahmed, Applied Chemistry, Karachi University at 0322-2990708 riaz ahmed
ps: other dates to remember:
1. Nov 14 Wed 10am-4pm Kar Press Club journalists hunger strike, visit the strike camp and express your solidarity
2. Nov 15 Thurs 3pm Kar Press Club public meeting on Emergency, all welcome
3. Nov 20 Tues 3pm Kar Press Club, rally by journalists. All organised by Pak Fed Union of Journalists