Resign Musharraf, Resign!
By JEMIMA KHAN
(InformPress.com) - I am now a serial protester, it seems. And among
my English friends increasingly the butt of jokes. Three
demonstrations in the UK since October, and several others - including
some of a distinctly Monty Python-esque bent - during my years of
living in Pakistan. I have spent many a pre-protest evening in
Islamabad quibbling with activists over the minutiae: what the
placards should say (no "death to..." anyone, I would insist) or whether
to allow effigy burning, a Pakistani protest staple ("Jem, you don't
understand how politics works here - please, just a burning Bush").
Tomorrow at midday I will once again be positioning myself outside 10
Downing Street, to await the arrival of retired General and self-
appointed President Pervez Musharraf, who I intend to greet with lusty
jeers, provocative placards and slogans that almost rhyme. We have
agreed that we don't like the commonly used kuta, meaning dog. Monkey,
fox, hyena and, worst of all (for a pork-phobic nation), swine have
also been banned.
I expect most of you will be thinking: "Aren't demonstrations a bit
old fashioned and irrelevant? Can they actually achieve anything?"
It is 40 years since 1968, "The Year That Rocked The World", when mass
protests erupted across the globe, in France, America, Mexico,
Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Belgium, Poland, Yugoslavia and
Czechoslovakia. While none of those demonstrations achieved their
immediate stated aim, cumulatively they changed the world more
profoundly than those involved could ever have imagined.
Popular protests rarely achieve much on their own. Hillary Clinton had
a point when she said that "[Martin Luther] King's dream began to be
realised when U.S. President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights
Act of 1964. It took a President to get it done." She was lambasted by
her Democratic rivals for having demeaned the great civil rights icon.
But she was right that, while there is no doubt King was brilliant at
mobilising a movement, as well as an outstanding orator and
inspirational activist, his real achievement was the shifting of
American consciousness. This created the environment in which it was
possible for Johnson to pass the humanitarian Civil Rights Act which
resulted in the greatest social change in 20th-century America.
The effects of protests are rarely immediate or even measurable. What
demonstrations do is to change the weather. And the weather changes
the landscape. Protests invariably move from the extreme to the
Sometimes, though, they really do what they say on the banners.
Ghandi's march to the sea to make salt marked the beginning of the
push to remove the British from India; the Suffragettes did get the
vote for women; the Peasant's Revolt did change the feudal system; and
the Anti-Slavery Movement did do away with slavery. They are all
examples of what demonstrations hope to achieve: the mass power of the
Tomorrow I will be protesting Gordon Brown's continued support for
Pakistan's dictator. I will be joined by politicians, lawyers,
doctors, human rights activists, journalists and ordinary Pakistanis
who want to know what happened to New Labour's "ethical foreign
policy". Our equivalents in Pakistan have been denied the same right
to protest. Many hundreds remain in prison - some tortured. We can't
read about it because the media in Pakistan remains restricted.
Brown and Musharraf are planning to discuss democracy, counter-
terrorism and the upcoming Pakistani elections. We, the crowd outside
Number 10, will be there exercising freedom of speech and practising
real democracy. Inside they will only be going through the motions.
How can they seriously discuss the "democratic process in Pakistan"
with straight faces when 60 percent of the Superior Court judges have
been dismissed and many are still under house arrest? How can "free
and fair elections" take place in three weeks under the supervision of
hand-picked substitute judges, a pet caretaker government and a bogus
election Commission? Why is our Government supporting and our
taxpayers funding a counter-terrorism strategy that has encouraged
terrorism? Above all, why has our Prime Minister chosen to host a
constitutionally illegal ruler who has lost the support of Pakistanis
both in Britain and abroad, and who is seen as the cause not the
solution to the country's problems?
Every time Gordon Brown shakes hands with and gives tea to a dictator,
in some small way, like protests, it changes the weather. If you shake
hands with one, you shake hands with them all. It's pointless refusing
to be in the same country as Mugabe, if you invite Musharraf into your
Wouldn't it be nice if, on hearing our shouts, Brown came to the
window of Number 10, waved cordially at the rabble outside and
announced: "Actually, you are right." To be followed from within by
pleasing sounds of scuffle and outrage with Brown emerging to join our
final chorus of "Resign Musharraf, Resign!"
It is more likely that we will just make ourselves heard. But who
knows? 2008 may yet turn out to be Pakistan's 1968. Inshallah.
Monday, midday, Downing Street. Effigies supplied.
[Ms. Jemima (Goldsmith) Khan is a leader of the Free Pakistan Movement
(FPM) based in London, UK.]