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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Two views on outcome of long march

By Asif Haroon Raja

The long march which started with lot of fanfare and evoked phenomenal response from all segments of society ended on a somewhat disappointing note. Somehow high expectations were pinned on the much awaited and much hyped long march that it would not only succeed in reinstating the deposed judges but also dig the last nail in the coffin of Musharaf. The ones who were watching the grand show from the sidelines were equally disillusioned. The leaders of the legal fraternity that have been eulogised as heroes have come under scathing criticism. It is widely speculated that Zardari with the help of Nawaz and Aitzaz had a key role in winding up long march inconclusively.

Contrary to pre-election period when the lawyer movement was directed against military dictator, the situation has changed after 18 February. Although Musharraf is still in chair but the power has shifted from the presidency to the democratically elected parliament. Within the parliament, except for PML-N which has taken a very clear stand on the issue of judges, all other parliamentarians belonging to different parties are not favourably inclined towards deposed judges. The PPP leadership and MQM in particular are averse to them. From the platform of APDM, only TI, JI and Achakzai led Pkwa took part wholeheartedly but PML-N stole the show. JUI F was as usual a let down, while ANP participation was nominal. Whereas the PPP did not take part in the long march, its top leadership succeeded in persuading many PPP affiliated lawyers to stay away from the long march and their absence caused a setback. The redeeming feature is that size of pro-deposed judges and pro-lawyer movement within the ranks of PPP is swelling and its top leadership coming under criticism.

Notwithstanding the huge damage inflicted upon Musharraf and PPP, Aitzaz Ahsan also came out bruised. Abandonment of sit-in in front of parliament house created fissures among the legal fraternity that had maintained its unity till this event. Aitzaz is accused of betraying lawyers cause at a time when victory was within grasping reach. Some opine that it was more like walking away after having been awarded a penalty stroke. The ones in favour of sit-in are of the view that after accomplishing such a grand success, a dharna till the realisation of their demands was very much in order. Sudden call-off distressed them and slogans of "traitor" against Aitzaz could be heard from angry groups. They felt offended that a golden opportunity had been squandered by the leaders because of pressure exerted on them by Zardari.

They argue that having missed the bus, the lawyers would never be able to muster such a large gathering again because of erosion of credibility. They say that the organisers had either not planned the event in entirety or had not anticipated such a large assembly or had buckled under pressure. They opine that abrupt calling off of long march without achieving stated objectives has lifted the pressure against Musharraf and PPP led regime.

Aitzaz and his like-minded colleagues maintain that objectives of long march have been adequately met and dharna was not part of the plan. They assert that prolongation of the event could have spun the situation out of hand and they had neither the means nor the resources to control the situation. Scuffle between the security forces and the crowd would have aggravated matters and brought a bad name to the movement. In their view dharna by a smaller group was also not feasible since it would have been easier for the police to forcibly disperse a smaller crowd, if required.

Those who gained first hand knowledge of the happenings were astounded at the outpouring of affections by the people standing on the wayside in each town and city and along the Murree Road in Rawalpindi from where the caravan passed. Unmindful of scorching heat and humidity and sky rocketing prices, they showered rose petals and presented them drinks, cold water and eatables lavishly. The rich and poor stood together to welcome the long marchers and waived at them enthusiastically. The thrill and ecstasy of the people seen on 14 June was simply mind boggling and unexplainable. This kind of spirit is narrated by the pioneers from first generation who had experienced the turmoil of Partition.

They recount the enthusiasm and selflessness with which people welcomed the arriving refugees from India with open arms and shared with them whatever they possessed willingly. The spirit of camaraderie and oneness was again witnessed during the 1965 war and third time when a devastating earthquake struck Azad Kashmir in October 2005. Murree Road and parade ground where the people had gathered were ideal targets for suicide bombers and bomb planters. The fact that no such ugly incident took place amplifies that sympathies of the militants were with the protesters.

The entire proceedings starting from Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar had proceeded peacefully and without a single untoward incident. The sea of humanity which thronged the given venue was certainly scary for the organisers particularly because of the volatile security situation and pent up emotions of the people. Rehman Malik had vainly tried his level best to frighten the organisers by disclosing that unknown suicide bombers were prowling within the capital city. Even containers were placed and special piquets established to discourage the protesters from entering Islamabad.

The assemblage of about 3-4 lacs people including men, women and children in the parade ground facing the Parliament House and Presidency which over shot all estimates were unparalleled. There was a funfair like atmosphere. Since the assembly had taken place in a highly sensitive area, it is certain that the law enforcing agencies would not have hesitated to use full force to quell any disturbance if it had taken place. This would have resulted in an uncontrollable stampede causing death and injury to many and thus not only turned the event into a fiasco but also given a bad name to the sponsors.

Aitzaz has been subjected to stings and arrows from his detractors mainly because he continues to sail in two boats. He is accused of playing a double game to draw benefits from both quarters. While he is still beholden to PPP despite his reservations on certain aspects and is fearful of Zardari, his devotion towards his legal community is beyond any doubt.

Likewise, his services rendered towards the cause of judiciary are commendable and needs no emphasis. In fact he has played a key role in keeping the legal fraternity cohesive and on track despite heavy odds and that too for over a year. The way he lambasted the defenders of Musharraf in the law court and left them flabbergasted is still fresh in our minds.

His bold utterances against Musharraf basking in the sun of glory earned him fame and respect. Besides him, Munir Malik, Kurd, Tariq and Hamid played their role equally well and earned a place in the hearts of the people. The one who provided them a cause and a platform to stand on was chief justice Iftikhar. His defiance and readiness to fight the dictator rather than getting cowed down caught the imagination of the people. Whatever grievances the people had against the judiciary were washed away on 3 November when he along with 60 other judges of superior courts refused to take oath under PCO and added a golden chapter in the history of judiciary. The judges who submitted to the dictates of dictator were condemned and vilified and are now referred to as despised PCO judges.

Notwithstanding that the long march fell short of expectations, the brighter part of the story is that it has demonstrated to the world that the people of Pakistan abide by democratic norms and can agitate their demands without resorting to violence. It also differentiated between the military led government which resorts to force at the slightest provocation and democratic government which resorts to civilised means to cope with the situation. It goes to the credit of those who had endeared extreme hardships for a noble cause and dispersed peacefully when told without creating a scene. They have however given a message that next time the gathering may be even bigger and may not be peaceful if doors of justice continue to remain slammed. They will then be forced to resort to mob justice.

The long march succeeded in exerting pressure on political leadership to get out of its mode of dithering and not to fool the people anymore since their patience is wearing out. The chanting crowds besides raising slogans of "go Musharraf go", also chanted "hang him, hang him". The people had become so averse to the PPP because of negative role of its top leadership that they politely declined to accept the hospitality of stalls put up by PPP men along Murree road and elsewhere and instead accepted drinks and eatables from stalls run by others.

It is a message that patience of the people is fast wearing out. The APDM has threatened to launch civil disobedience if their demands are not met. All Pakistan lawyers Conference has now set 14 August deadline for the government to restore judges failing which they would resort to sit-ins, boycott court proceedings and block courtrooms, organise countrywide marches, and resort to civil obedience. Nawaz in the meanwhile has stated that dithering by PPP on judges issue would no more be acceptable. Zardari and his team instead of playing dubious games should act and reinstate the judges at the earliest before it is too late and everything is lost.

Asif Haroon Raja is a retired Brig and an analyst based in Rawalpindi.

- Asian Tribune -

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