The Long March out of Surrealism
By Shireen M Mazari
As the Long March gets underway, the extent of public enthusiasm and support that it still arouses reflects the commitment of the people across the country to the restoration of the judiciary – and the central figure that continues to symbolize defiance against tyranny remains Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. But as the Long March gets underway the blast outside the Danish embassy last week continues to raise some bothersome questions.
* The first question is whether it really was Al Qaeda, given that the group claimed responsibility for it much after the event and that too in a rather obscure fashion. This is not like Al Qaeda which tends to gloat over all its violence.
* The second question is over the type of blast – certainly not the usual suicide bombing pattern one has come to expect from Al Qaeda.
* The third question relates to the actual location of the blast – given that it hit out at poor Pakistanis at large rather than any Dane, and this is what must have been anticipated given the place of occurrence. So was the intent really to hit at the Danes or to create a security situation that could be exploited in terms of undermining the Long March on security grounds?
* There is also the intriguing thought as to why one would target the Danish embassy after the issue, even for the second time, had effectively died down much earlier? When no violence actually accompanied the protests that followed the republication of the blasphemous cartoons, why would this blast have occurred after the protests had died down?
Certainly one does not have any easy answers, but there is clearly more to last week's blast than meets the eye. After all, the surreal is normal for us.
For instance, only in Pakistan the ultimate defense of the US could happen at the official level in the face of all evidence to the contrary. I am referring to the constant violations of our territory by the US and the killing of our tribal people in the process. But our defense minister insisted that in fact the US was not guilty of any violations of our sovereignty. And the "logic" that governed this gem of his was that the US was using unmanned drones to attack us in the tribal belt! So as long as US personnel were not physically involved in the attacks, one could not accuse the US of carrying out such attacks. Who can argue with such logic?
Clearly, the US will continue to haunt us as our new leadership lives in the lingering shadows of a deal brokered by the Bush Administration. That is why our leaders are constantly offering doublespeak on dialoguing with the tribals and militants. Rehman Malik's declaration that the peace deal with the local Taliban in Swat had been scrapped, should also be seen in this context. Unfortunately for the unelected but most powerful controller of the state forces of violence, the NWFP government has insisted the deal stands. So will US interests hold supreme or will our local needs and interests finally win some space?
Nor is this all. Look at our style of begging for aid and assistance from our friends! Instead of a low-key delegation comprising a finance minister accompanying our prime minister, we saw an entourage of eighty plus winging their way to Saudi Arabia in what was a most grotesque sight. And amid the delegation was Mr Zardari – but in what capacity? Was this an official government delegation or was it a PPP delegation? Ms Sonia Gandhi, who also happens to be a member of the Indian parliament, has never flexed her power in such a crude fashion. But here in Pakistan we now have government being run not by the elected people or parliament, but by those outside of the state and governmental structures. In other words, the wielding of power without responsibility. Is this our new model of democracy? Incidentally, the new set up also comes with a lot of "I will do this" and "I will do that" – all very reminiscent of the old Musharraf-style that has now become passé.
But then in Pakistan the more things change, the more they tend to remain the same. Junkets by the new PM and FM have already begun even as domestic issues require immediate attention. But what would life be for the leaders without these "great escapes"? Prime Minister Gilani certainly provides a bridge between the old and the new – although in all honesty, there is nothing "new" in terms of the politics today. It is simply a recycling of the old, one more time. Old politicians have been recycled and old bureaucrats have also undergone a recycling process. In terms of vocabulary also, just as the word "honor" was used to describe gruesome killings of women, we now have Prime Minister Gilani referring to hoarders and other such criminals as "honorable" families! What a farce. Where is the "honor" in such criminal activities? And how can families indulging in hoarding be regarded as "honorable" to begin with? Does anyone really care to begin with?
We are, though, an ever hopeful people. Presently in Lahore there is much hope and joy with the election of Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister of Punjab. There is also a high level of expectation on all fronts amongst the elite, including the concerned citizens of Lahore. However, for those of us who come from southern Punjab, we remember the neglect of our areas by all those occupying the seat of power in Lahore. Will things be different this time round? One certainly hopes so, although the record of our elected representatives is dismal and if one looks at even the divide of women seats of the PML-N, hope and expectations will be tempered once again.
Perhaps it is this hope that continues to sustain the citizen's support for the deposed Chief Justice. At the end of the day, we all have to rely on the judiciary for relief and Iftikhar Chaudhry was doing that for the dispossessed, the disappeared and other such victims of state excess. That is why the Long March will bring us all on the roads once again, just as vested interests will continue to seek all manner of subterfuges to delay and eventually deny Iftikhar Chaudhry's restoration as Chief Justice.
There are devious designs afoot which seek to destroy all the surviving institutions of the state, with many amongst us willingly playing the role of fifth columnists. But the will and determination of the nation has been thwarting these designs so far. The Long March will also be a reflection of this will and determination which is why certain forces are opposed to it. If the government had shown a responsiveness to its people, instead of playing games through confused signaling, the Long March would not have been needed.
The real test for the state will be after the Long March arrives in Islamabad. What happens then? Will the government heed the voice of the people finally? If not, how will the post-Long March situation play itself out? Who is testing whose patience and commitment? And, finally, who is actually committed to what? Clarity is fast playing itself out in an increasingly murky political environment.
(The writer is a defense analyst. Courtesy The News)