A number of people asked to me about whats happening in Pakistan, so to answer some of their questions – and also because today is a momentous day in Pakistan’s history – here is what happened this weekend, March 12-16, 2009. In my opinion, the most important (good) event In Pakistan’s history!
Imagine a country run by 3 political parties, all headed by people who make George Bush look good. As to how that happened – blame the British, and history (and the Pakis), where structures put in place under colonial rule were heavily weighted on the side of the ruling party and fate (or bad men) which killed all the decent men who went into politics.
In the last 50 years Pakistan has never had a functioning judiciary – as every government was more incompetent than the last, all of them were united in putting down the judiciary and stuffing it full of of yes men.
In 2007, Pakistan was ruled by an army dictator, who got sick of even having yes men telling him yes, so he fired the Chief Justice of Pakistan. This CJ, for whatever reason, had developed some balls and in the last two years started deciding cases on merit. In truth, he had always done that, except that what happens in a corrupt country like Pakistan is that the cases having to do with government never make it to the courts. As the army dictator grew ever unpopular, the CJ, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, actually took up some cases against politicians, and (justly so) ruled against a few of them, on simple straightforward proven stuff.
This annoyed the dictator so much that he fired the CJ – illegal under Pakistani law. Despite much pressure and blackmail, the CJ refused to resign – so the military arrested him and his entire family. In the proudest moment in Pakistan’s history, in a move which galvanized the nation and lit hope in millions of people who had long resigned themselves to Pakistan’s ever-miserable state, practically the entire top judiciary resigned en masse in protest.
For the first time in my life, and those of many other people in Pakistan there was hope – for this was a non-political movement fighting, for a change, for the right thing. And here is where I got involved with a bunch of other people in organizing street protests, contacting journalists around the world, politicians in Pakistan, the local media, just people everywhere in the country to sell people on the idea that a independent judiciary is vital, the very basis of democracy, and that we all need to do something to make it a reality. It was a huge movement, with people all over the country taking part, connected and self-organizing via the internet and sms. The lawyers community in Pakistan jumped into action en-masse – they took what was a hopeless cause, and kept at it for 2 years.
This group – just a bunch of different citizen’s group – had only one aim – the restoration of the judiciary. The lawyers and the various citizens groups started the ball ruling, and the political parties jumped in – the end result being the ouster of a dictatorship, elections, and once again we had one of the George Bush mental clones back in power.
Here, people got disillusioned again, for despite promising an independent judiciary, the “George Bush wannabe”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/2009/02/a_short_history_of_asif_ali_zardari.html did everything in the government’s power to neuter the already dead judicial system – for what all corrupt politicians love is freedom to do whatever they want, unhindered by such trivialities as rule of law. In Pakistan, if a honest man runs for elections, and his crooked opposition comes up to him and says “You’re dead if you run” – and supposing he captures it all on tape with witnesses too – it’s all useless, as there is no court of law which will hear cases against anyone “favored” by the government.
It looked like we were back to square one – but the lawyers movement and the citizens group kept going – and these were bleak times, as the government arrested people, blackmailed others to shut up and set up kangaroo courts – while at the same time a lot of people got dis-illusioned and gave up.
The pressure kept building up, and finally the opposing political parties jumped in behind the movement – this put so much pressure on the government that today they had to back down and reinstate the Chief Justice. The Pakistan Army also played a part, by not kicking out the government (for a change!) and instead bowed down to people pressure (and the Americans!) and told the George Bush clones to take a chill pill or else.
This weekend, the government ordered the police and the Pakistan Army to use deadly force to stop the protests – but the police joined forces with the protestors, and the Army refused to kill it’s own (for a change!). There was the usual of banning TV and newspapers, but cable operators bypassed the bans and kept the channels on air (except where arrested or beaten up or their equipment destroyed), and the newspapers kept printing, and top government officials resigned in protest, and many others threatened to resign unless “Zardari”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/2009/02/a_short_history_of_asif_ali_zardari.html saw sense.
Arrest warrants were issued for intellectuals and journalists writing “against” the government, and the police refused to follow through on most of them, with the top police officials resigning saying they couldn’t follow unlawful orders.
The end result – not just the Chief Justice, but the entire judiciary has been restored, and the power of this government and that of future ones has been put in check.
Far more important than a few men sitting in the courts, is that an entire culture is poised to change. The restored judiciary has vast public pressure to function, and a number of honest citizens have stepped up to challenge the many crooks in government. A number of good precedents have been set, and even though tomorrow the Army might still take over, or one of the opposing parties might displace the current government, they won’t be able to ignore the precedents, and the people power which caused, what is in effect, a revolution.
What a change a weekend makes, and sows the seeds for future elections…