The prophets of doom are back in business. As the euphoria following the February 18 election subsides, there are more and more predictions, displays of that typical thick wall of cynicism that shapes, or at least influences, the public discourse in Pakistan. This is the third moment in our recent history when the media gurus, the doyens of public opinion in the independent, apolitical quarters are singing a familiar tune. The byline of this ungraceful song is: these politicians are incapable of resolving their differences and even if they work together for the immediate removal of the president, they will resort to their old tricks and confrontations. No one is even mentioning that some other powerful and invisible quarters may already be resorting to the old governance paradigm: give the dogs a bad name and then hang them.
In 1988, the ‘moment’ for the lack of a better term, frittered away at the altar of confrontational politics and the creation of tussles entailing Punjab versus the federation, patriotism versus security risk (read the late Benazir Bhutto) and corruption narratives. The media, the technocrats and the apolitical urban middle class accepted this storyline only to see the whole system crashing in 1999 — the second key moment in this argument.
The 1999 upheaval was peculiar not just that a wide section of ostensibly democratic sections welcomed the coup but also lent a helping hand to the project of eliminating ‘bad’ and dirty politics. There were voices of protest as the corrupt and bickering politicians needed to be held accountable and the Augean stables of political process required cleansing. The rest is history as one after the other all the middle class ambitions were given up, or distorted to an extent that accountability, corruption and real democracy became more than sardonic jokes under the Gujrat syndicate backed by showcased prime ministers and turncoats.
By early 2007, this cleansing and re-engineering project had outlived its utility for effective domestic governance, and for fulfilling the imperatives of a frontline, (or a client), state. Hence the negotiation with the largest political party commenced against several odds. And, the biggest challenge to this course of transition emerged not from the establishment even though there was no shortage of detractors there. The loudest proponents of the “sell out” theory were precisely the forces that legitimized the 1999 coup and gave it the political, constitutional legitimacy. And, the new phase of distrust on corrupt politicians ensued. Mian Nawaz Sharif had to face a similar fate when he entered the electoral arena and appeared to be playing the ‘game’. It was Benazir’s tragic death that has somewhat halted her constant media trial.
Since 2007, the refreshing difference to the old script is the lawyers’ movement; and the urban consensus on the independence of the judiciary. The principled conduct of now deposed judges has given impetus to this movement as without the 60 odd resignations this stage would not have arrived. To give due credit to the leadership of the lawyers had been struggling against the constitutional deviations much before 2007. But the events of March 2007 provided a centripetal push towards the office of the chief justice.
The leadership of the lawyers has yet again proved its mettle in the present uncertainty of political winds. Flexibility, central to the success of a movement, has been displayed by Mr Aitzaz Ahsan who has called off the long march to Islamabad given that the new assembly has not even sworn in.
However, the bulk of hitherto disengaged, and now politically energised sections of the middle class view the lawyers’ movement as an alternative or even a replacement for mainstream politics. This is not a deliberate act; perhaps it echoes the frustration of the 1990s decade, the dynastic and familial control over party leaderships that apparently excludes the increasingly articulate and professionally sound middle classes whose number ironically have grown under Musharraf’s Pakistan. Continue reading