Monday, June 16, 2008

Islamabad falls to the people

- Thoughts on the magnificant rally in Islamabad at the conclusion of long march..

Of the many rallies and conventions that I have been to, during the course of the Movement for the Restoration of Judiciary and Rule of Law, last night’s rally was the most impressive. The magic was not in the numbers, although they were the highest ever; it wasn’t because of the fervor or valour because the records set on Nov 5 at Lahore High Court remain unbeaten. Yesterday’s rally stood apart from all the earlier protests t because of its sheer awami nature. It wasn’t a lawyer’s, or student’s rally or civil society’s rally; it was a people’s rally.

Of late, the movement has been drawing increasing criticism from political pundits for being elitist in its genesis and structure. Critics have been saying that, amidst worsening food and electricity shortage, the movement has lost popular support. If anything, last night, standing amidst tens if not hundreds of thousands of ordinary Pakistanis of various classes and political and religious backgrounds, I saw the critics fall and their wisdom go down with them. I thought about all that I have missed in a few months of inaction. Amidst the milling crowds, I felt my old hope and strength return to and it made me happy.

For some reason, I have come to loathe the hyperbolic and frenzied( almost barbaric) sloganeering that is common on rallies, particularly among students. Yesterday, when I found myself standing once again amidst boys and girls shouting rhythmic slogan and looking as though engaged in a psychotic trance or some frenzied African dance, I felt sick. I felt that I didn’t belong there. And it wasn’t the first time I was feeling that way.

This time, however, I had an option.

I quietly slipped out of this small excited clique into the people. Out there, amidst a sea of ordinary Pakistanis, who sat listening to the speeches delivered from the stage, I felt at ease once again. Ordinary, modest, down-to-earth, anonymous Pakistanis, out in the open to decently sending a political message – I loved being amongst them. I loved knowing that I was one of them and was nothing less and nothing more. I loved the fact that now, at last, they were in charge of the movement.

The sober optimism of the lawyer leaders and politicians was appealing. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif told the mass of protesters that history was being written in Islamabad. He said that they were there at 4am in such large numbers and that this would never have happened if history were not to be written. I felt that even though Mr. Sharif had not been too articulate, I knew exactly what was meant. It was logic of destiny - an infectious, appealing, ecstatic logic. The hand of destiny had brought us there and it was not without purpose. Throughout the evening, there had been much talk on similar lines. Somebody else had said “One history was written in 1947; another we write today.”

Those words, I felt, ringed with truth. A new Pakistan was indeed taking shape amidst this congregation. A Pakistan for the people, I hoped. A Pakistan for everyone, I wished.
I have seen the roads in Islamabad expand. Now they look more like fields than passageways. Black bitumen fields where despotism grows. That night, however, the dreary bitumen fields in front of the Parliament swelled with so many people that the place actually looked like ‘Parliament Square’ buzzing with public. I had never thought of that oft-picturized part of Islamabad in these terms. Now the people provoked me to think of it that way. They set the terms.

I don’t know whether it was or was not D-day for Musharraf. But I feel that it was the day Islamabad fell. The day a country’s capital fell to its own people. That day, a new Pakistan was born.


The last part of the night is always its most powerful. It is a time when God descends into the lowest of the heavens and implores human beings to call upon him. It is a time when destinies are written and rewritten. It was then that I experienced the most emotionally charged moment of the night. During his speech, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif recalled that many months ago, in this great, green city, young girls, students of the Qur’an had begged a man for a safe passage. They had begged for mercy but the man who felt that he could play God and get away with it showed none. Instead, he had them bombed and charred to the bones. Does he deserve a safe passage now when he denied it to them, not so long ago?

This mention of the tragedy of Jamia Hafsa had a great impact. I felt tears well up in my eyes. It must have been a very hard night. No one should have ever been burnt to death. Looking around, I thought about how long it had taken my city before it could mourn its dead. I recollected all the rationalizations of this tragedy that were, and to some extents still are, fashionable amongst the English-educated intellectual elite of the country. They would even let us mourn for dead kids. Yet, in that last hour of the night, not all those rationalizations could stop the tears falling. There are crimes that you just cannot forget. There are crimes that someone will have to pay for. And there are times when you just cannot forget that the God above is all-seeing and all-hearing.

That moment you could see it and know it. At long last, the people had come. They were so many. They had come to conquer the critics. They had come to revive the dying. They had come to mourn the city’s dead. And by the will of God, before the end, they will be back to finish the job.