I.A. Rehman


The events of March 15 underscored the reality that Pakistan has multiple centres of power and the nominal state  is not the strongest of them. The writ of this state will run only to the extent it is not hindered by the parallel  centres of power. This is the real drag on the government’s autonomy that no politician should lose sight of.


The lawyers achieved their objective before the long march participants reached Islamabad or were required to  deal with problems of an indefinite sit-in. Ten days after the event, when the euphoria has begun to subside, a  somewhat dispassionate examination of the lessons of March 15 should be possible.


There is no doubt the success of the lawyers’ movement has no precedent in Pakistan’s history. Those who have  hailed the restoration of the judges sacked by an arrogant ruler as a miracle are not off the mark. There were  occasions when the lawyers’ movement seemed to have lost its momentum but all credit to its leaders that they  found ways to keep the struggle going and retain the trust of their supporters in civil society, especially the  media.


In the end, the lawyers won one of their main arguments and lost another. The government had countered their  plea that the judges could be restored through an executive order with the argument that this was impossible  without a constitutional amendment. Eventually, the lawyers’ argument prevailed and it was through an  executive order that the judges were restored.


However, their argument in favour of keeping the political parties away, at least from the control room, proved  to be of no avail. They had to revise their strategy and aggressively court the political parties, to whom they  ultimately yielded the command of the Islamabad expedition. The long march was not called off by the bar  leaders. This was done by Mr Nawaz Sharif, though in consultation with Mr Aitzaz Ahsan.


Mr Nawaz Sharif was able to claim, and rightly so, the lion’s share of the credit for the success of the long  march. He cashed in on all the opportunities that came his way. He correctly read the concerns of Washington  and London as well as signs of disunity in the establishment. His sources of information in the administration,  federal and provincial both, served him well.


Above all, he made good use of the factors operating in his favour: the police started wilting under modest  pressure at Lahore’s High Court–GPO Chowk; for one reason or another, the Punjab administration was unable  to call in the Rangers or the army; and the media mobilised the Sharifs’ supporters without any charges. Once he  had broken through the barrier outside his residence there was nothing to bar his way. He was as calculating in  deciding on a halt as he was while coming out of his house — a race to Islamabad could have caused  embarrassment to the mediators. 


(I.A. Rahman is a leading figure in the human rights movement in Pakistan)


(From DAWN, 26 March, 2009)

Top - Home