The past few days have been momentous in our neighbouring country of Pakistan. If the beginning of the month had us all despairing at the rising wave of Taliban inspired fundamentalism and terrorism which did not even spare the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team, the past couple of days have seen the vindication of popular struggles for democracy and rule of law. Most of us must have read the news reports of the "Long March" to Islamabad by the lawyers' movement, which was also joined recently by the Sharif brothers.
Media reports suggest that the size and scope of popular participation far outnumbered the expectations of the lawyers or the Sharif brothers and put fear into the hearts of the ruling establishment -- President Zardari, the military and the ever present yankees. It took merely three days for Zardari to cave in. The Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, who had been removed by Musharraf in March 2007, was reinstated, the elected assembly of Pakistan's Punjab province will now elect a new Chief Minister and the disqualification of the Sharif brothers from contesting elections will be reviewed. All the repressive measures imposed to browbeat the movement have been removed and political prisoners are being released.
Conditions remain stark in Pakistan. The fundamentalist - fascist forces continue to grow and political parties remain unable to chart out a progressive agenda. Most importantly, Pakistan remains firmly in the grip of imperialist forces and the military continues to be the strongest institution of the State. But despite this, it is important to note that this is the second time in as many years that political movements which have sought to advance democracy have attracted unprecedented mass participation and have successfully pushed back the ruling cliques.
Here is an assessment of the present movement and its victory, written by Farooq Tariq, the leader of the Labour Party of Pakistan, an openly Marxist political formation, which was circulated by email yesterday.
A victory hard won
By: Farooq Tariq
Finally, the chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Choudry and other top judges have been restored. Yousaf Raza Gilani, prime minister of Pakistan made the announcement on 16 March, 2009 morning.
It is a victory hard won. At the time of writing this article, 23 activists of Labour Party Pakistan are among hundreds still in jails in different part of the country. The Prime minister has ordered the release of these political prisoners and lifting of section 144.
The government of Pakistan Peoples Party took this decision not calmly. It was in fact imposed on them by the masses of Pakistan. The decision came while thousands were on the way to Islamabad to start an indefinite sit in. This was despite all the state forces trying to stop it.
The Lahore rebellion on 15 March was the decisive blow to the Zardari government for non fulfillment of the promises to restore the judges. Police has been trying for days to seal Lahore . They had done that to all other cities as well. The containers bringing good from Karachi port to different parts of the country were used to block the roads. Section 144 was imposed in three provinces. Police has been busy arresting political activists and the lawyer's leaders. Over 2000 were arrested since 12 March, the day the long march started from Quetta and Karachi .
Police was able to curtail the size of the long march by arresting and blocking the roads all over the country until the day Lahore had to join.
Police started arresting political activists and raiding their houses in a bid to do the same what had been done in such circumstances under General Musharaf. They brought their loyal police officers to key posts before crackdown. They were so busy planning the arrest of the government's political opponents that the terrorists were able to attack the Sri Lankan cricket team on 2 March 2009 in a broad day light at the busiest area of Lahore with an ease.
The PPP government had a plan. They wanted to do two things in one go. Depose Punjab government and appoint new loyal PPP judges in High courts. The judges of Supreme Court who took oath under Provisional Constitutional Order under general Musharaf to validate the dictatorial measures came to help PPP government. The Sharif brothers of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz who were ruling Punjab were declared illegible by Supreme Court to contest election for crimes they had not done. The Punjab government was dissolved and governor rule was imposed on 25 February 2009. It was a PPP led coup in Punjab .
The lawyer's movement had already announced a sit in Islamabad for an indefinite period until the restoration of top judges. Punjab government of Sharif brothers was demanding the same. The strategy of PPP was to remove a government friendly to lawyer's movement. They wanted to do the dirty work of repression and suppression by dictatorial measure. To form a new government in Punjab, the PPP also wanted to have an alliance with a party that had been in power in Punjab under general Musharaf for five years.
Sharif bothers, once out of power, used the occasion very cleverly to fight for independence of the judiciary. The two brothers who had a majority vote in Punjab made very radical speeches all over Punjab in mass rallies in favor of the deposed judges. They recited Habib Jalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the two most popular left wing poets of Pakistan.
All the Left parties including Labour Party Pakistan were already campaigning for the restoration since 9 March 2007, the day Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudry said his famous "no" to Musharaf insistence of resignation. They became part of All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) a bourgeoisie alliance which boycotted the general election of February 2007 on the appeal of lawyer's movement. The APDM included some the nationalist parties of Baluchistan and Sindh, Jamaat Islami, and Tehreek Insaf of Imran Khan, the former captain of Pakistan cricket team. Nawaz brothers were also part of ADM, but left it on 9 December 2007 to contest the general elections.
The PPP and Nawaz brothers contested the general elections with a promise to restore the top judges. This was not just the issue of some judges, but a question of independent judiciary. The PPP government in center refused to restore the judges even after several written agreements on the issue. They thought they can do what ever they like. For them, it is not important to act in accordance with promises. The PPP government became very unpopular because of the implementation of conditions imposed by IMF and World Bank. They went all the way with the neo-liberal agenda. The international economic crisis, the collapse of industrial infrastructure and the price hike of an unprecedented level brought PPP government to a point that many thought General Musharaf period was better.
There emerged a popular conception of the PPP government and particularly president Zardari: "they lie and deceive".
The PPP government had no justification for not restoring the judges. They used all sort of weak arguments. Some of them said that these judges have also taken oath on PCO earlier and has worked with Musharaf. They forgot the time after when these judges refused to take oath under PCO and lost their jobs. Then the PPP government said that the deposed judges have been politicized. They also came with this naked lie that they never promised to restore the judges. It was written agreements that were spread over the pages of newspaper to expose this lie.
When the announcement of the sit-in for an indefinite period in Islamabad was made by the lawyers, the PPP government told the people that issue can never be resolved in the streets. This was a party which was the outcome of the streets in the sixties. They asked the lawyers movement for negotiations. The lawyer's movement told them point blank, "there had been negotiation, it is time for implementation". They always told the media that the Dharna in Islamabad will strengthen the undemocratic forces and there is a danger of a military coup. This was frightening the masses of the dark military period. Using this fear, the PPP government wanted to do all sort of undemocratic measure themselves.
Labour Party Pakistan argued very powerfully that the Islamabad sit-in will actually weaken the undemocratic forces. There is no possibility of another military coup. The powerful lawyers movement is totally opposed to any military intervention. At present, there was no political party to welcome a military coup, unlike October 1999, when PPP and Jamaat Ismai welcome General Musharaf's military coup.
PPP government also tried to give it a nationalist turn. "Zardari is from a smaller province so any movement against him is against the Sindh people" was a line toed by many so-called intellectuals who had all their hands full of privileges by corrupt PPP government. They forgot the fact that it was the nationalist parties that have supported the lawyer's movement to an extent that they boycotted elections at a time when they could have won many seats of the parliament. It was a sacrifice of the progressive nationalist parties for the upholding of the flag for independent judiciary.
And Zardari is no nationalist leader fighting against the exploitation of Sindhi masses. He actually wanted to privatize the main source of income of Sindh, the gas reserves. He is a corrupt bourgeois accidental leader who became president of Pakistan because his wife Benazir Bhutto was killed and he inherited the leadership of PPP.
PPP government was fighting a loosing battle with no arguable justification for not restoring the judges. Zardari became like Bush, A liar without any sophistication. He rapidly became very unpopular. With his cunning smile, he gave the impression that he is laughing at the masses.
Then came the call for sit-in. All the planning of the PPP government to defuse the movement was devastated once the masses came to the streets. The PPP could not form a government in Punjab as the PMLQ refused to go along with them. The PMLQ members of Punjab assembly did not want to have an alliance with a very unpopular party.
The restoration of top judges is a victory with a bang. It has empowered the people like no other event has done in recent past. It is victory of people's power. It is victory of the masses in the streets. It is street victory over the so-called forum of bourgeois parliament. It is victory hard won by the people of Pakistan. It will end some of the remaining ruminants of the militarization of society. It is defeat for dictatorial measures. It is beginning of the awakening of the judiciary. It is defeat of the elements always validating dictatorial measures.
Labour Party Pakistan
40-Abbot Road Lahore, Pakistan
Tel: 92 42 6315162 Fax: 92 42 6271149 Mobile: 92 300 8411945
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