The summer of discontent

Daily: The Statesman
Date: 02.08.08

The security forces have again attacked Dera Bugti, another missile has been launched on
the tribal belt, and the lawyers’ movement is visiting Karachi are three different dimensions
of discontent ravaging Pakistan. Elections 2008 should have presaged a change, a visible
change, both in perception of the people and the action of the executive. Unfortunately, this
seems not the case.

The Balochis are seething with dissatisfaction despite an elected government has taken
roots in the centre. Soon after electoral win on February 18, Asif Ali Zardari conveyed a
message of reconciliation to the Balochis and showed his resolve to address their
grievances. An apology was also sought from the Balochis for the wrong done to them by
the previous government. A few days ago, Shahbaz Sharif visited Balochistan and
expressed a message of squaring off: put the past behind; let us build the future. Even then
if there is disgruntlement actuating clashes between the security forces and the locals
called miscreants, the situation needs to be reviewed at social, political and economic
levels. There is a rumour taking rounds that the provincial assembly of Balochistan is not as
representative of the locals as it should have been: the PML-Q won seats no where but in
Balochistan. To what extent the rumour is true is yet to be seen; nevertheless, Balochistan
requires a true representation both at the provincial and the national levels.

A kind of disappointment with the state is also simmering in the tribal belt of Pakistan. As
the elections in the US are approaching fast, the flights of unmanned aircrafts over the
tribal belt are also mounting. The resultant missile attacks devouring lives of many – the
collateral damage – are raising the anger of the locals against the central government.
Notwithstanding the results of the forthcoming elections in the US, the growing restlessness
in the tribal area is bound to backfire for years to come. The Afghan war brought
Kalashnikov and Heroin to the Pakistani society, the ongoing war on terror is at least bound
to confer the gift of the suicide jackets and the suicide bombers on the Pakistani society.
Whosoever wins or loses Pakistani society will be at lost.

The lawyers’ movement has yet to achieve its sole objective: restoration of the judges to
the position of November 2, 2007. In the post-election 2008 scenario, the lawyers’
movement was at its peak when the Bhurban declaration was signed between the PPP and
the PML-N to restore the judges within 30 days, i.e. by April 30, 2008. The reverse
countdown began and ended with nothing but the promises for the future. A call for the
Long March was given by the lawyers but the march stayed short of the sit-in in front of
Parliament. Retrospectively, a great opportunity to internationalize the whole issue was
missed. Self-assessed compulsions forced the leaders of the movement to call off the
march and cancel the sit-in. With that the enthusiasm of the movement was evaporated.
The more the lawyers’ movement is taking time to achieve its objective, the more gaps have
been found out to weaken the movement. Within the lawyers community, there are signs of
a counter-lawyers’ movement. In the recent past, the tour of Sind by the de facto Chief
Justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar has radiated a specific message: a parallel lawyers’
movement may be in place legitimizing the de facto bench. To retrieve the lost zeal of the
movement, the leaders of the lawyers’ movement have declared August 14, 2008, the
deadline for the government to restore the judges otherwise a civil disobedience movement
will be started and a sit-in will be staged in front of Parliament.

The restlessness in the lawyers of the movement is putting stress on the coalition of the
PPP and the PML-N to do more. The post-election euphoria is over and the coalition is
being stretched to its limits. In order to make an electoral come back, the PML-N had made
restoration of the judges an issue to garner votes. Consequently, the PML-N secured an
overwhelming victory in Punjab against both provincial and national assembly seats. Now,
the PML-N is under pressure to fulfil its promise but the PML-N is handicapped in the sense
that it alone cannot undo the November 3 (2007) acts of the then Chief of Army, General
Pervaiz Musharraf. A resolution in National Assembly followed by an executive order to that
effect is demanded by the lawyers’ movement which is being denied by the PPP. The PPP
is in favour of restoration of the judges but through the next constitutional amendment. In a
way, the PPP intends to indemnify the acts of General Musharraf besides protecting the
NRO which offered a new lease of life to the PPP. Hence, it seems that the diversification of
interests of the members of the coalition is a major hindrance not only in restoration of the
judges but also in keeping the coalition intact.

The lawyers’ movement has not yet acknowledged the sacrifices of the political parties
comprising the APDM. It seems that the lawyers are apprehensive that their movement may
be hijacked by the political parties to meet their own political objectives. The lawyers seem
miss the point that the addition of the like-minded groups, though political parties, will give
them a moral and political boost. If the APDM and the lawyers’ movement stay apart, the
sitting government has nothing to fear from either of them. Yet to come in the open is the
PML-N. Time is approaching fast when the PML-N has to decide whether to stay in the folds
of the coalition or join the lawyers’ movement physically. Departure of the PML-N from the
coalition is bound to bring the lawyers and the APDM to one platform. That is why; it seems
that August is pregnant with hope and at least some portion of discontent will disappear.

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