It was the month of March much like this. The year was 1947. Muslim League had won a legislative majority in the province of Punjab in 1946 but was denied government by a coalition of the feudal-backed Unionist Party and the Indian National Congress hastily put together by the strong British bureaucracy running Punjab. Heeding a call for civil disobedience from the central leadership, the Punjab Muslim League aided by the cadres of Communist Party of India brought British rule in Punjab to a stand still. Incredible scenes were witnessed. One young woman jumped over the fence of the government secretariat, tore down the Union Jack and replaced it with the Muslim League flag. The government panicked and carried out massive arrests. Hundreds of Muslim League women were also arrested. Amongst them was a young mother who carried a little baby boy – both of whom were imprisoned. So what is the relevance to this historic day? Well that little baby boy was Aitzaz Ahsan. And the events of those days led to the creation of this country.
62 years later that boy has grown into a great lawyer and an even greater leader- the undisputed leader of the movement that has finally put Pakistan on the track it was originally envisaged for. On Sunday, he was stopped at Dubai chowk by the police and turned back to his house not far from the scene of his earliest incarceration in the cause of Pakistan. Before he left, he thundered in front of the media and warned his own party’s government not to stand in the way of the movement that had intended to deliver to Pakistan a respectable and modern polity. At his driveway he was delivered the order confining him to his house which he read patiently and then showed to the media which beamed it live to the world, after which he went back in. The anger built up.
A few kilometers away, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif – two times Prime Minister of this republic- was served a similar order. No stranger to danger (in their youth Sharif and his brother had once daringly saved late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s life in Lahore), Nawaz Sharif rose to the challenge and asked his followers to defy all unconstitutional and illegal orders. Then began the long line of resignations of government officials. And then Sharif did the unexpected- he broke through the barricades and the police just surrendered to him. The crowds gathered behind him as he made his way to the high court via Ferozepur Road. Aitzaz Ahsan watching this live on TV (the government had jammed cell phones and telecommunications) gave his troops the marching order. Marching to the tune of “Aitzaz teray janisaar, bey shumar bey shumar”, Aitzaz’s convoy broke through the police siege and once again the police backed off. The revolution unfolded at GPO Chowk near High Court, where the lawyers, thrilled by the pincer movement of these two brave men, launced a full frontal assault on the police forcing them to retreat. The very foundations of Zardari’s regime and his vision for a one-party totalitarian state were shaken.
In the early hours of Monday, 16th March 2009, Zardari finally surrendered to the will of the people. He did so through the Prime Minister, the constitutionally mandated executive, who restored the judiciary. In one clean sweep, parliament and judiciary were strengthened against a disproportionately strong head of state. By doing so Zardari did what Bhutto and Musharraf had failed to do – to step back from the brink both for the country and for themselves. And this must be recognized. The logic of democracy and constitutional rule is that power is ultimately not concentrated in one person. Zardari, the strongest president of Pakistan in history, failed to have his way. He must now realize the limitations of his power.
But this victory is only the first step on a long road. We still have to undo the 58(2)B – the legacy of General Zia which was rehashed by General Musharraf. This ill-thought out article gives the President unbridled power to dismiss the executive of the country which makes the article utterly undemocratic. Such a power may be vested in the executive for it is routine in parliamentary democracies for Prime Minister to advise the President to dissolve the legislature and call for fresh elections. However the action under 58(2)B allows the President to act independently of the chief executive of Pakistan thereby making head of state ascendant over the head of government. The 58(2) B must go and both Zardari and the PPP should realize that their power come from the people and not a constitutional article which was introduced by a military dictator.
Similarly the 270 AAA introduced by General Musharraf needs to go and along with it the whole idea of an “Islamabad High Court”. Islamabad High Court is a dangerous proposition. By making a high court for the federal capital, the federal government has become a resident of the jurisdiction of this court. This means that essentially any aggrieved party anywhere in this federation would have to file a writ against the federal government in this high court. Atleast this is one interpretation and can be argued forcefuly.
Similarly President Zardari is a necessity for Pakistan now. He has done the right thing, albeit after being forced into a corner. It must also be remembered that he is the symbol of this federation and has the unanimous support of the legislatures of three of the four constituent units. Therefore now that we have won an important victory, it is very important to recognize that nothing be done to endanger Zardari-led PPP government in the center till 2013. The way Sharifs immediately halted the long march after the restoration of judiciary is worthy of accolades from all quarters. They have shown by their actions that they were not after power and for this they must be praised. Other ideological forces however have a questionable role now. It seems that neither Qazi Hussain Ahmed of Jamaat-e-Islami nor Hameed Gul, the representative of the right wing group from within the military, were too thrilled by the restoration of the Chief Justice. Hameed Gul repeatedly asked for the government and the CJP to take a stronger stance on the United States. While justice must be done in the missing persons case, the CJP will be well advised to ignore Hameed Gul altogether. This revolution must not be misused by any political or ideological group. Qazi and Gul must realize that they are not Khomenis of Pakistan nor is Pakistan ready to accept any Khomeni wannabes.
At the end, however, this revolution should mean justice and fair play for all citizens of this country, regardless of their religion, race, caste or color. It should mean rule of law and equal opportunity for all citizens of Pakistan. It should mean the undoing of discriminatory legislation and ordinances- mostly promulgated by a military dictator- against women and non-Muslims. It should mean reversing the rot and making Pakistan the modern democratic republic it was meant to be. And it should also mean an end to all judicial and political vandettas once and for all.
Onwards towards a modern, democratic and progressive Pakistan