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Long March – The Aftermath

The article, Long March – The Aftermath, discusses that the Long March has concluded, but a number of questions still haunt the lawyers’ leaders? The most important of which is what did the Long March achieve. The article argues that can we achieve anything by protesting peacefully in a thoroughly un-civilized society of Pakistan? Or for that matter, even by un-peaceful means?

by Dr. Khalil Ahmad

I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The college I used to teach in was no different from our Pakistan. There were General Musharrafs, Asif Zardaris, Yousuf Raza Gillanis, Rehman Maliks, Farooq Naeks, Babar Awans, Latif Khosas; and Maulana Fazlur Rahmas, Asfand Yar Walis, Altaf Hussains, Farooq Sattars also; on the other hand, there were Nawaz Sharifs, Shahbaz Sharifs, Imran Khans, Qazi Hussain Ahmads, Mehmood Achakzais. But Chaudhry Shujaat Husaains and Chaudhry Pervez Elahis need no mention; we had them in abundance.

There was civil society in the persons of voiceless students. Likewise, there was a King’s Party which always stood on the side of the principal of the college. And, there was a loose and flexible opposition party also. It used to determine its stand on an issue to issue approach. It was rare that it took a principled stand. Those few who posed any threat to this set up could never muster popular support but for a short while only.

Naturally, the Principal’s party was showered with privileges of many sorts. One of such favors was organizing and taking students’ study and excursion tours out to various places/cities. If one belonged to this party or was in good books of this party he would be selected to accompany the tour. There was no rule who would go and who wouldn’t. It was just the sweet will of the principal and his men. It created a feeling of pathetic dependence; that one was at the mercy of others, that now he would be asked to accompany and now he wouldn’t be. When this practice was protested by some lone soul that there needed to be a rule that should determine the selection of accompanying persons, he was just ignored. He took to an announced boycott of all the tours whether he was to be invited to or not.

I still remember one of the colleagues who took things as they were, he said: ‘Boycott is taken to in civilized societies; it has nothing to do with us. Who will listen to you? You will gain nothing. Only, you will lose the opportunities that come your way.’

I still remember how impact-less the boycott was. It did not leave any stone turned, or any mind provoked. The business of the college continued as usual.

Now when the lawyers’ Long March was announced, it reminded me of my colleague’s advice. No doubt, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir Malik, Justice Tariq Mahmood (retired), Hamid Khan, Ali Ahmad Kurd, Rashid Rizvi, and others must have been given the same advice by many. What would they achieve? What this Long March would be able to move about? Will the judges be restored? Will the one who perpetrated the most treacherous acts be out? Do you think you can achieve anything by protesting peacefully in a thoroughly un-civilized society of Pakistan? Or for that matter, even by un-peaceful means? Then, why to go for this Long March? Won’t you exhaust the momentum and energy of the movement? Are you clear what you want to demonstrate via the Long March?

The Long March has concluded, but the same questions still haunt the lawyers’ leaders? Why these questions are so persisting? Why everyone is baffled by them? Ironically, no one possesses answers which would not raise more questions? There is something missing. It seems something has gone wrong. What’s that something? If we are able to find that something, it will help us resolve the knot.

After the February 18 elections, throughout the print and electronic media a tendency was noticeable. Those who used to support the cause of the judiciary wholeheartedly, started showing signs of fatigue now. As if the burden of their stance had exhausted them. As if in the face of a protracted illness the patient comes under weariness and desperately longs for results, be it death. Or actually he loses hope of recovering from his malady, and looks for everything to finish.

These people somehow started arguing that let the parliament not restore the judges, or let it restore them in whatever way it does. Or leave in now. It’s enough. In fact, they buy the argument of those who take refuge in the supremacy of the parliament; that such and such number of people have elected these representatives, and now they be given freedom to act on their own, and that if they do not meet the mandate you vote them out 5 years after.

This fatigue is a clear symptom of a society where values, morals, and principles have no worth and belong to a junkyard. Sometimes when some junky picks a thing from there and goes out in the market, mostly he is seen as a suspect and criticized. Sometimes, he is praised and followed by others. The lawyers’ movement was such a phenomenon. As has been discussed in other articles, the rule of law movement is a moral movement; it is based on universal values and needs those who can afford a principled stand in every thick and thin. They are not susceptible to temptations or fatigues. They know it’s a continuous struggle and may take years to mature. But this must not tire us. They know that failures are like purifiers which leave all the impurities behind. They cleanse all the waste to make the movement more transparent, principled and morally strong.

The Long March demonstrated these points well. Those who wanted to have tangible results out of it failed, and are projecting their failure on to the movement. Taking advantage of this moment of lull, others are also all set to sabotage the rule of law movement by casting doubts on the leadership. They support those who wanted a sit-in before the parliament, or who wanted to storm the parliament or presidency, or army house. They are those who wanted results at any cost. Sure, they believe in ends justify means. So to have the thrown away judges brought back, they were prepared to use any means, be they moral or immoral, peaceful or violent.

In view of this, it is quite irrelevant that in case of a sit-in or a storming of any ‘institution,’ the judges would have been restored or the mock president sent out. The pressure we use to achieve our goal is always a moral pressure which can never be of an immoral nature. The strength of our position, our point of view, and our demand is moral: that we are right, and on the right. If we are not right and on the right, our position is inherently weaker. In that case, we have no standpoint, and haggle from this position to another. It is in such a situation that we use violence, try to ‘extort’ our goal at any cost, or resort to bargain tactics.

So, it is for the lawyers to realize that they are not doing power politics, or struggling for power. They must recognize the fact that their moral strength does not lie in achieving their goal this or that way, it lies in their moral and principled stand. They must remind themselves that they are on the streets and roads waging a moral struggle: that there should be rule of law; that everyone should be equal in the eyes of law; that everyone’s fundamental rights should be ensured and protected; that for an efficient dispensation of justice there should be independent judges; that constitution should be supreme so that a legislature with special vested interests is not able to make a travesty of it; and, that executive should not be so powerful so as to eclipse the role of both legislature and judiciary; that the three organs should be separate and independent from each other.

The lawyers, civil society activists and all of us should feel proud that Long March marked a great moral victory. That how hundreds of thousands people from every walk of life converged to tell the parliament what they want. Of course, it is for the legislators, especially for the leadership of Pakistan Peoples Party, if they are civilized enough, to see and realize why these people took to Islamabad. Were they there to demand subsidies, or Benazir Cards? Asif Ali Zardari must realize that these people were not demanding any material gains, they were protesting for their moral demands.

Though, on the surface it seems that the Long March met a failure because it did not yield the “expected” or tangible results, but in point of fact, the rule of law movement has scored another great victory. If the PPP leaders did not pay any heed to this big event and were just happy to belittle and ridicule it, it proves their moral hollowness, their shady values, their unprincipled politics and their distorted governance. They can do whatever they wish now as they are in power, but they cannot change the veracity of moral principles. Their temporary gains are a witness to the fact that there are still not enough people who are morally upright. If it were so, they could never have anyone to be in their party and to be on their side.

Now is the moment to re-collect ourselves, to re-gather our courage, and to take up the reins once again. We should not lose heart. We are right and on the right. We should continue with our rule of law movement. It is a moral movement. Sooner or later, there will be a time when there will not be enough people to support the moral depraves of PPP and PML (N) or such other people and parties. The moral political turpitude has but a short life. It cannot survive longer than the life of those moral depraves who has got a personal agenda to pursue while holding public office. Moral principles meet no failures. It is individuals who fail. If PPP and Asif Ali Zardari betray the rule of law movement, even if PML (N) and Nawaz Sharif betray it, even if Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and other leaders of the lawyers’ movement betray it, this movement will not be lost. There will be others to take it forward. Ultimate victory is moral victory. Virtues are never lost. They accumulate and consummate. They are like flowers which take time to blossom.


Dr. Khalil Ahmad is president and founder of the Alternate Solutions Institute, Pakistan’s first free-market think tank.

This article appeared in the Pakistan Observer on June 28, 2008.