2007: A year of hope, a year of despair

2007: a year of hope, a year of despair


Faheem Hussain

2007 was a year of hope and despair for Pakistan. Hope arose in all of us because of the movement of lawyers from March onwards for the restitution of the rule of law and the end of arbitrary one-man rule; a movement later joined by journalists struggling for the freedom of the media and by other sectors of society, including students, demanding democracy and the rule of law, the restoration of the Constitution and the end of years of military dictatorship and misrule. It was heartening to see diverse sections of Pakistani society (in all parts of the country) coming out in large numbers on the streets for their democratic rights. These included young people who previously had not taken part in any protests and it was a surprise to many of us who had become cynical and had assumed that there was no life in them. (However, we could have seen the signs at the time of the earthquake in 2005 with the response of the people to this national disaster.) For the first time in the history of Punjab, the Army was discredited and the demand was for the end of military rule. The peaceful protesters were beaten up by the police, arrested and charged with terrorism and some of the leaders were tortured, but they were not discouraged and the movement did not die. New heroes of the nation were born in these times and new democratic forces, whose long term effect we do not know yet, were let loose. These were good times. The image of Pakistan was not just of bearded mullahs with Kalashnikovs, shouting “Down with America”, but rather of black-suited lawyers protesting peacefully and being beaten up by the police in front of the Supreme Court in Islamabad, of young students protesting at the major universities in Islamabad and Lahore, of journalists protesting all over the country against the closure of major TV channels.

One of the remarkable aspects of this movement of nine months was that it was not led by any political party. It was organised and led by the legal community and small, self-organised, independent groups in major cities. In fact, the major political parties were late in seeing the significance of these developments. It is to the credit of this movement, and not the parties, that Musharraf (with US prodding) was forced to end the emergency and to call elections and to allow Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan to contest these elections. Although it was clear that the elections were going to be rigged, nevertheless there was a feeling of change for the better and a realisation that slowly democracy may be restored. Many in the movement were uneasy about Ms Bhutto’s deal with Musharraf and the US. Many of us would have preferred a boycott of the elections by the major parties to really delegitimise them. This was not to be.

However, the year ended with the dastardly murder of Benazir Bhutto and one was plunged into despair for the future of Pakistan. It seemed that all our worst fears for Pakistan were going to be realised. It seems that even a modicum of sham democracy with rigged elections is not tolerated by the dark powers that rule Pakistan. I was not a supporter of Benazir because I do not think that the road to solve the problems of Pakistan goes through Washington and shady deals with the Army. It is said that Benazir had become a realist, but in doing this she was in danger of losing the support of precisely those elements of Pakistani society who are against religious fundamentalism and who are for democracy and justice. I do not think that her becoming prime minister with such deals would have resolved the fundamental problems of Pakistan. However, for many of the poor people of Pakistan she did still represent the old slogan of “roti, kapra aur makan”. This much was evident from the first day that she landed in Karachi in October. She was beginning to draw large crowds of poor people to her election meetings and it was evident that the PPP was still a force to be reckoned with. Protests from lawyers, students and other middle class sector can be tolerated, but not the cry of the great unwashed. This primeval cry from the people of Pakistan is what is not tolerated, neither in Islamabad nor in Washington. So her voice had to be silenced.

Her death plunged Pakistan into what some people called “chaos” and some pundits voiced the opinion that this disorder would help the religious fundamentalists. What an idea! One of the most popular leaders of one of the major parties of the country is assassinated, and you do not expect the people to react? Of course, they will react in their anger and will do reckless things. I would have been sorely disappointed if the people had not reacted. They have shown their anger and have put the powers that be on notice that their patience cannot be tested forever. Although it has led to the unfortunate loss of life, basically this reaction is healthy as it shows that the people of this country are not going to accept any dictatorship lying down and that they will protest and take the law “into their own hands”. If the law is broken by the highest authorities in the countries, then it is right and just that the people take the law into their own hands so to say. Another heartening aspect of these “disorders” is that these were not confined to Sindh alone, but major disturbances took place in all provinces.

What does all this show for the future of Pakistan? It should be clear from all this that religious fundamentalism, although a danger, is not what concerns the poor masses of Pakistan and is not the greatest danger to Pakistan. As they have demonstrated time and again throughout our brief history, the people of Pakistan want democracy and political, social and economic justice. The greatest danger to the existence of Pakistan and to any idea of a just society is the continuation of a dispensation that gets support from Washington.

It will be a long struggle, perhaps involving bloodshed, but in the end the people will triumph and army rule will end someday. There will be many twists and turns, but the events of last year, though ending on a note of despair give one hopes for the future. One does not yet see the day that this will occur, but surely that dawn of freedom, of which Faiz spoke so eloquently, will come if we all keep struggling together. Perhaps the tragic and untimely death of Benazir will not be in vain, but will further strengthen our resolve to end the rule of those who want to keep the people of Pakistan enslaved.

The writer is a visiting Professor of Physics at the School of Science and Engineering, LUMS

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