An open letter to Mr Aitzaz Ahsan
This was published in DAWN yesterday
By Raza Rumi
THAT you are principled, charismatic and right is beyond doubt. You have inspired the cynical, intelligentsia, revived a moribund civil society and awakened Pakistan’s traditionally de-politicised middle class.
This is something that history shall record gloriously – reminiscent of the way you re-invoked the essential attributes of ‘Indus man’ in your treatise on the pre-historic identity of Pakistan.
Today, all efforts to generate ‘positive’ results from Election 2008 have foundered; and there is a new parliament ready to be sworn in. The new National Assembly, reflecting the fractured polity, has one common thread – nearly two thirds of its members constitute or sympathise with what was known as the opposition before February 2008. This is a moment of reckoning and most concrete outcome of a decade long struggle initiated by your friend Mr Nawaz Sharif, your leader the late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and your supporters in the middle class and urban democrats. The movement that followed the suspension of the Chief Justice in March 2007 was a culmination of public discontent that started way before. That you provided a shape and led it, is, your stellar contribution.
This is a historic moment that cannot be squandered or lost to the politics of personalities and individuals. Most Pakistanis are in awe of the dismissed Chief Justice for his strength of character, they have tremendous respect for the members of the bench who refused to succumb to the executive diktat following the imposition of emergency in November 2007. And above all, they are also tired of General Musharraf whose good intentions have only led to the proverbial hell of energy and food crises, rampant inflation and roaming suicide bombers. But this struggle just cannot be about getting rid of the president and reinstating the Chief Justice. That would be a belittling corollary of this fabulous episode in our recent history.
The representatives of the PPP, PML-N, ANP and bulk of like-minded independents are touching the magic number of two thirds in the new Assembly. If they are asked to settle a score with an individual and honour another few, history will not record it in kind terms.
Your call for a march towards Islamabad and the restoration of judges before Mar 9 is bound to polarise the fragile parliament, the political parties that have been beaten, poached, hounded with leaders assassinated or disqualified. It is a delicate juncture of our history and any division in the moderate political class or resort to historical bickering and blame-games will rock the system only to benefit the martial corridors of Islamabad’s Byzantine palaces and their traditional occupants.
This is why many citizens are worried and skeptical that nothing changes in the murky waters of Pakistani politics. If the PPP does not agree to the restoration of individual judges then the national coalition will not be formed; and the polarisation of the 1990s will return to haunt us favouring the Hameed Guls and Roedad Khans who now speak your language but their shadows still loom large over the body politic.
The foremost objective of your movement should be to back the formation of a national coalition of the political parties who have been the victims of the nefarious Mullah-Military alliance of the last nine years. There can be no other alternative. If there are street pressures then this process will get derailed. We need the consensus of the political class on inter-party dialogue and cooperation. This should entail rectifying the Constitution and purging it of absolutist insertions, bigotry and most importantly how the judges are appointed.
If your movement ends up dividing the tenuous partnership brokered by the Charter of Democracy, then mainstream politics will once again be de-legitimised. Another saviour will emerge from the ashes of this cycle to pronounce yet again the need for genuine democracy.
Collisions at this point will only benefit the Mullah whose benefactors are retreating, but in no way giving up. This time they have to be defeated not through blood and resurrection of Garhi Khuda Buxes but through a democratic process that does not make the faceless masters an arbiter of our destiny.
Exactly after two decades, the moment has returned. It was squandered by the political forces and exploited by these faceless masters. Do we want another round of that regrettable phase where one institution gains at the expense of the millions?
Continue your struggle but look at what might be the cost of exacerbating the tension between the big political parties and exerting weight on a parliament that has yet to learn the art of being sovereign. You and your associates must also be a little self-critical. The boycott of elections was not the wisest of decisions. Events proved your late leader right – no matter how tainted the electoral process was, it was the best option available and Pakistanis seized it.
Let an un-manipulated and fully representative executive, backed by an amended Constitution emerge; and let it end the executive arbitrariness in judicial appointments once and for all. And let the Parliament institute sound mechanisms for internal accountability within the superior judiciary. Institutions are greater than individuals, as you very well know.
We know that your sense of history is unmatched. Now is the true test of your leadership where you will have to trade populism for statesmanship.
And, we have faith in you.