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The Islamabad Spring

By Hakim Hazik 


The spring of 2007 led to a long hot summer. It led to the conflagration that left the remaining credibility and legitimacy of the establishment a smoking hulk. Was it just Pervez Musharraf’s bad luck that he ran into a recalcitrant and peevish judge, prone to unpredictable tantrums? Was it just unfortunate that the thugs of Islamabad police were caught on camera roughing up the Chief Justice, leading to the public outrage? Or was there something more fundamental that had changed to lead to this outcome?


The Jasmine Revolution:

Since 9/11, through luck and through design, Pakistan’s economy has grown by 6-8 percent per year. It is likely that in big urban centres, the growth would be a lot higher, of the order of 10-20%. This, added to the easy availability of credit has meant that the middle class has expanded and become more resourceful. Most of the new money has gone into construction and transport and consumer goods. It has also meant that the middle class feels more confident, more resourceful and more assertive of its rights. The balance of power has shifted in favour of the civil society, not completely, but significantly. 

The other major change has been the transformation in communications. The most important factors are the satellite channels. But Pakistan is in the midst of the information age, having 50 to 70 million mobile phone users, 10 million or more internet users. The price of highs speed internet is becoming more affordable. This has meant the demolition of the monopoly of the state propaganda machinery.

The Pakistani society is riven by ethnic, racial, linguistic, economic, social, religious, sectarian and numerous other divisions and fault lines. But there are also uniting factors, such as Islam, army, Urdu, English, cricket, Urdu poetry, Indian movies, People’s Party, Geo TV, Aitazaz Ahsan, Iftikhar Chaudhry. Whereas the army is facing one of the worst crises of its history, the satellite channels including Geo have come to define the new Pakistan. The have turned the middle class Pakistanis into a nation of TV junkies. Interestingly it is the news programmes that draw the largest viewership. The ‘Famous Five’, i.e. Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir, Kashif Abbasi, Talat Hussein, Kamran Khan have achieved the status of rock stars.

Therefore we think that what started on 9th of March and resulted in the milestones of 20th of July and 18th of February was a symptom of this newfound power of the middle classes and Justice Chaudhry became the expression and the focal point of this power. The actual cause is the social change and the resulting change in power relationships within the society. It is amazing to see how many communities, parties and groups see Justice Chaudhry as their champion. They range from the Jamaat-e-Islami to the communist party, mainstream political parties and the nationalist parties of Baluchistan and Sind, students, professionals, liberals, secularists, religious people and fundamentalists. In fact this is the biggest consensus in Pakistan. The consensus on justice and rule of law.  

The Empire Is Not Pleased:

The Americans have every reason to be pleased with the outcome of the recent polls. People’s party is committed to continue so called ‘war on terror’. Nawaz League may make utter anti-American noises, but are unlikely to be able to challenge the army’s policy. The army high command will continue to eat out of the American hand. Musharraf is isolated and not of much use to the Americans any more. The Americans may try to ease his departure, but they would be utter imbeciles to prop him up for too much longer.

The Americans should learn from their own unhappy history of propping up unpopular dictators, and getting a far worse deal in the end. Iran could have been a liberal democracy if the CIA had not undermined the Mosaddeq government. If Egypt had a free and fair election, the Akhwan would win, because all the ‘moderates’ have been bribed or bullied into silence. PLO was the secular and inclusive party in the occupied Palestine. Israelis actively promoted their opponents to undermine the PLOand eventually brutalised the Palestinians for voting Hammas into power. When you crush all opposition, only the hardiest opposition survives, and by definition they are the upholders of extreme outlooks.  

Is Pakistan Different?

Pakistan is too diverse to accept a unitary and uniform central authority. The attempt by our genocidal military dictatorship to impose such an authority on the Bengalis did not work. Therefore since 1971, all the military dictatorships have tried to co-opt various interest groups to share the spoils of the loot. The only system that can be sustainable is one that would recognise this diversity and respects it. The 1973 constitution provides such a framework, and can provide a starting point.

Pakistan also has a history and a popular memory of constitutionalism and legislative process. Islam is widely regarded by its followers first and foremost an ideology of justice or ‘Adl’ and an antithesis of oppression or ‘Jabr’. Quaid-i-Azam was a barrister and made his name by winning legal arguments in the legislative assemblies. No military coup in Pakistan has gone unchallenged or uncontested in a court of law; from Maulvi Tamizuddin to Nusrat Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif case. The judiciary has repeatedly been attacked by the military and civilian authorities and purged of its more independent members. But never in its history has it received the kind of support from the masses, it received in 2007.

Similarly the electronic media has not emerged out of a vacuum to become a thorn in the side of establishment. There is a history of a feisty Urdu and English press fighting its corner, going back to the 19th century. We have such stalwarts as Zafar Ali Khan, Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Ghulam Rasul Mehr, Abdul Majeed Salik, Mazhar Ali Khan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Salahud Din and many many others.

To be continued



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