Reinventing Hope in Pakistan

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai 

‘What do we do with Pakistan?’

‘Let’s turn it over to builders.’

This is what I hear almost on a daily basis on a Dubai-based Pakistani television network that my wife religiously watches for its engrossing soaps. The mock talk show titled, Loose Talk, on ARY features two of the most gifted artistes Pakistan has produced.

Every time I watch Anwar Maqsood and Moin Akhtar deliberate on Pakistan’s future and come up with the above solution, I can’t help but grin.

All new nations go through turmoil and all sorts of political and social upheavals.  However, the Islamic republic of Pakistan has perhaps had more than its share of woes since its creation.

Forever living dangerously and hobbling from crisis to crisis, the South Asian nation has been a source of concern to its own people as well as its neighbors.

But now I believe there’s hope for Pakistan. This week’s exhilarating developments that took the nuclear weapons state to the brink and back give you hope and confidence about its future. 

It’s not just the lawyers who fought relentlessly for justice for the sacked judges. The entire nation – political parties, human rights groups, the media, and ordinary people — struggled and strived as one for the cause.

Most external observers have failed to see the big picture on the judges issue. For this was not just about the restoration of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry or his fellow judges.

This was about restoring the rule of law, justice, democracy, fundamental rights and accountability. This is why the cause of justice for judges had turned into a life and death issue for all sections of Pakistani society.   

Having long suffered the never-ending abuse of power, corruption, exploitation and a mockery of all that Pakistan was supposed to represent, ordinary people found an emotional rallying point and common cause in the lawyers’ movement.

For them, this was an opportunity to put Pakistan back on the track – in line with the vision of its founding fathers. So this was not just about some wronged judges but about reinventing hope and confidence in Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan.

I know some of my Pakistani friends find the frequent comparisons with India odious.  But I can’t help recall that a similar people’s movement helped save the world’s largest democracy.

We had our own tryst with people’s power when the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed the so-called state of Emergency in 1975 (our answer to martial law) to perpetuate herself in power.

If our elders are to be believed, it was easily the darkest period in the independent India’s history with some of the worst human rights violations and abuse of power taking place in those two years.

If India came back from the brink, it was all because of the strength of its democratic institutions and its people’s resilience. They never gave up their trust in democracy and the rule of law and it paid off. Little wonder no politician has since dared to take Indira Gandhi’s route to pharoaic power.

This is why I think that by ‘persuading’ their leaders to reinstate the judges, the people of Pakistan may have rediscovered their nation’s original source of strength, hopefully closing the road for all abuse of power and tyranny forever.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not off the mark when he told Geo TV that the long march that he led from Lahore to Islamabad defying government curbs and threats to his life was a prelude to “a new revolution in Pakistan.”

Sharif is no saint. He has had his share of warts. Many Pakistanis cannot seem to forget his reckless actions and his own attempts to rein in judiciary in his earlier avatar. But Sharif’s long exile and his travails at the hands of Musharraf appear to have made him wiser and more mature.

Interviewing him at his daughter’s place in Dubai a couple of years ago, I was struck by the rather unguarded and humble man who sounded and behaved so much differently from the haughty autocrat that he was made out to be.

Whatever Sharif’s flaws, he had been consistent in his support for the cause of justice and all that it had come to symbolize.

Whether it was a clever political move or genuine change of heart, Sharif embraced the lawyers’ cause early on as his own, apparently realising its emotional and symbolic significance for his people. (Many in Zardari’s party though suggest Sharif hijacked the lawyers’ movement.) 

The former premier may have played a huge gamble by deciding to lead the long march. If the government hadn’t relented, it might have been construed as a huge setback to the former prime minister as he had invested personal prestige in the movement.

But now that the people power coupled with considerable persuasion from the two members of Pakistan’s triumvirate – Army and America – have taken the game out of Zardari’s hands, Sharif walks tall.  He has emerged as a leader who is now perhaps too big for the pygmies around him. I only hope all this new-found power and popularity do not go to his head.

In fact, Sharif, Zardari and all Pakistani politicians must learn the necessary lessons from the justice movement which has united a deeply divided and disillusioned nation like never before. Perhaps never since the inception of Pakistan has any cause so electrified this nation of competing contradictions, rejuvenating it visibly and completely.

Pakistanis ought to jealously guard and protect this gift of democracy and justice that they’ve found after tireless efforts and enormous sacrifices.  They must not let another tyrant – in khaki or civvies – drive them off this path that will take them to a better and more peaceful tomorrow.

If Pakistan’s separated-at-birth twin India (here I go again!) has grown by leaps and bounds over the past six decades emerging as one of the two new big powers winning hearts and minds around the world, there’s only one explanation: Democracy and rule of law.

Save for a brief interlude of two years, the nation of a billion people has steadfastly stayed the democratic course chartered by its early leaders. Not a small feat considering India’s size, population, poverty and a myriad other issues and concerns. But despite its woes and weaknesses and continuing struggle with the forces of darkness, it has never given up its faith in democracy’s magical power to heal.

I am not exactly on George W Bush’s side. But I kind of believe the same mantra could work for Pakistan – and rest of the Muslim world – as well, solving all their problems.  Well, almost all!

– Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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