A Day of Blunders

The legal ‘home-run’ handed down to general Parvez Musharraf was never going to translate into immediate political gain. But that the government by its own blunders would in fact opt to aggravate its existing political problems, is a feat that the Musharraf government seems to have become adept at. If September 28 brought some respite for the Musharraf camp, September 29 should have been a day of serious remorse and reflection. The dominant reality of the day was intermittently the unfettered application of brutal force by the police on the protesting lawyers and on the reporting journalists. Other issues including the protesting lawyers’ open anger at the Supreme Court of Pakistan for deciding effectively in favor of general Musharraf’s candidature took a back seat. By the end of the day the government had two active fronts to fight on- one with the lawyers and the second with the journalists.

For at least five hours the contest of between will power and determination of the around 400 plus unarmed lawyers and the armed attacking police continued. They refused to listen to the plea of the Supreme Court Registrar who came out on the Constitution Avenue to ask the police to let the lawyers march peacefully towards the Election Commission.

The journalists reporting the attacking police and the battling lawyers, were also targeted by the police. The police, as if on rampage, was attacking literally anyone who moved towards the Supreme Court left at least half a dozen journalists from the print and electronic media, bleeding and injured. Not to be intimidated by brute force, dozens of journalists spread across the Constitution Avenue stood united. The seasoned Secretary General of the journalists union the PFUJ, Mazhar Abbas moved instantly to demand that all journalists should boycott the Prime Minister’s evening function. Highly agitated the journalists unfortunately beat up the State Minister for Information Tariq Azeem. Reportedly the driver of the ambulance, in which the Minister left the Election Commission Building, told the journalists, as he drove past through the protesting journalists that the Minister was in his ambulance.

The police force far exceeded the lawyers in numbers. In uniform and in plain clothes and armed with dandas, they were spread all over on the Constitution Avenue between the National Assembly and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. The protesting lawyers numbered 400plus. The lawyers had gathered inside the Supreme Court premises. From there they had to begin marching, as announced last week, towards the Election Commission

In following orders to prevent movement of lawyers towards the Election Commission, the police force used tear gas shells, lathis and even stones to restrict the lawyers movement. They began their task of restricting the lawyers’ movement by firing tear gas shells at the lawyers inside the Supreme Court premises. The senior lawyer Aitazaz Ahsan was hit by a stone and then brutally lathi charged. The police first lathi charged Ali Kurd, who burnt a copy of the Supreme Court judgment, and then arrested him. Many other lawyers were beaten up and hurt and were seen being taken away in ambulances.

While the lawyers protested and chanted ‘go Musharraf’ the Prime Minister and almost the entire cabinet was present in the EC building while the Election Commissioner scrutinized the nomination papers of general Musharraf’s and of the other candidates.

If this is a taste of things to come, the week long political journey to the presidential elections promises to be very turbulent for general Musharraf, his men and, above all, for Pakistan. The fall-out of this turbulence will be deeper political polarization making general Musharraf’s candidacy increasingly more controversial.

The Supreme Court, the lawyers, the government , the media, the principle presidential candidate, the Election Commission have all come under severe criticism. Confrontation and not accommodation is the hallmark of Pakistan’s current condition. The bright spot still remains that power and authority are under scrutiny from multiple sources.

Yet lingering consistently is the intolerance in a highly charged political situation. Long spells of absence of Constitutional democracy will always undermine a society’s collective ability to accommodate and co-exist. While governments are principally responsible for undermining tolerance, its negative fall out extends beyond the government. The current message from most of the contestants in public space is ‘if you are not with us completely you are against us." Then its dangerously ‘no holds barred’ on any front.