Also published in Nayadaur TV “Success Of JUI-F Long March Depends On Govt-Military Relations“
During the late 60s, there was a famous British science fiction-allegorical television series – The Prisoner — which was about an unidentified and unnamed British intelligence agent, played by Patric McGoohan, who, suddenly resigned from his job and decided to leave England. While he was preparing to travel, he was abducted from his London apartment and brought to a mysterious coastal village, where his captors try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job. The village was controlled by some called “Number-1”. No one had ever seen “Number-1”.
After he got familiar with the village, he began to try to escape from it. Every time he tries, he is being caught or cheated by his collaborators and each time he fails. Once, he found some collaborator who helped him in his escape attempt. He managed to cheat the security system with the help of that person and got to the main expressway, from where he got to his apartment. He entered his apartment, everything was at the same place where he left, his luggage was still open and his clothes were out from his wardrobe. He was pleased with how he outsmarted all the security cordons and got to his home. However, when he started to observe his backyard from his kitchen window, he realized something was not as normal as it used to be. A further inquiry made him realize that a lot had changed. Finally, he found out that he was never out of the village, and what he sees around was all illusion which was created by “Number-1” to make him believe that he actually broke the limits and managed to go home.
Does this story remind something? Yes, of course, it does!
It’s a general perception in Pakistan that the movements are successful only if the powerful establishment is behind those. In 1977, the movement which was run by the 9-party Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) began a movement against the alleged rigging in the elections of 1977, and the government was unable to control it, finally, the Pakistan Peoples Party leadership decided to accept the PNA demand of the re-election, but before any agreement was signed, the military toppled the government and hanged Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto by manipulating and pressuring the Judiciary.
Benazir Bhutto, in 1992, after the co-operative society scandal, made a secret deal with the establishment (which she used to justify later time to time) and launched a long march, then a train march when the long march failed to deliver its goals and couldn’t force Nawaz Sharif to resign. The all-powerful President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, with a military support and 58-2b (constitutional amendment imposed by General Ziaul Haq – aa a military dictator – which give the power to the President to dissolve the National and Provincial assemblies if he/she has a “good reason”) weapon in his hand promised her if she can gather 2-3 hundred thousand people he would topple the Sharif’s government. After the failure of the long march and train march, President kept his contacts intact and promised that if she would keep him as President after the elections, he would remove the Sharif’s government. Although it was a failed attempt but it weakened Sharif’s government and before the 1993 Parliamentary election, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, with the support of the Pakistan Army, used his reserve powers (58-2b) to dissolve the National Assembly, the lower house.
In 2007, another movement began. It was started after General Musharraf forced the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Choudhri to resign after the CJ asked the intelligence agencies – the Military Intelligence, Federal Investigating Agency, and Inter-Services Intelligence – to produce 400 missing persons and intervened and stopped the sale of Pakistan Steel Mills because of the alleged conflict of interest. Justice Choudhri refused to accept the pressure. General Musharraf tried to force him to resign and when CJ refused to comply, he submitted a reference against him in the Supreme Judicial Council for alleged corruption and nepotism. However, his ouster was challenged in the Supreme Court, and before the hearings of CJC, the Supreme Court reinstate Justice Choudhri to his position. Musharraf’s case of legitimacy as a presidential candidate was already in the Supreme court and Musharraf had a fear that after the restoration of Justice Choudhri, he would not be able to be a president for another term. He decided to take a severe action by imposing the state of emergency and putting once again the constitution in abeyance. He fired and detained all the Judges who refused to take an oath of Provisional Constitution Order. As a reaction, a country-wide movement – which was already got the momentum after Musharraf’s actions against the CJ — intensified and made Musharraf very weak and after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, he further lost the political ground. Although, after the Feb. 2008 general elections, the newly formed Pakistan Peoples Party government kept General Musharraf in the office as a powerful President with 58-2b, but by August, the government decided to impeach him and forced him to resign from his position.
Although, from the surface, the lawyers’ movement was entirely against the Musharraf-led establishment, however, some very senior journalists believe that although the movement was started without the help of establishment but once it took the momentum, the establishment decided to quietly support it to further aggravate its impact, because part of military’s ranks and files was unhappy with General Musharraf’s allegedly overt concession to India over Kashmir, the deteriorating popularity of Army, and General Musharraf’s insistence to stay in power and the Army Chief.
In March 2009, Pakistani masses experienced another long march – this time it was strongly supported by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf. After Musharraf resigned in August 2008 and Zardari sworn in as the new president, he showed reluctance to reinstate the judges immediately. The lawyers openly blamed the PPP-led government along with its PML-N allies and considered “them a part of the same regime”, since both had faltered over the Bhurban Accord, where the parties decided that they will restore the Judges after the impeachment of General Musharraf. When President Zardari publically refused to restore the Judges, the PML (N) – which was allied with PPP in government, decided to relinquish their ministries. In February 2009, President Zardari removed the PML (N) government from Punjab and declared the Governor’s rule in the province. On 16 March 2009, the Lawyers’ Community had given a call for the nationwide long march. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Jamaat-e-Islami and others supported and participated in the long march. The march was from Karachi to Islamabad to demand the reinstatement of a Supreme Court Chief Justice and other judges ousted from office by General Musharraf. As a result of the Lawyer’s Movement, Zardari was forced by the military chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kyani, to meet their demands and Chaudry was reinstated as the chief justice.
In 2014, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri called for a sit-in in Islamabad. Their demonstration was openly supported by the military establishment which had decided to remove Nawaz Sharif from the power. However, due to the involvement of PPP and Imran Khan’s lack of planning and organizing capabilities, the sit-in lost its initial force. Soon, Tahirul Qadri decided to quit and then after the massacre in the Army Public School, Imran Khan had to call off his sit-in.
On 6 November 2017, another sit-in in Faizabad near Islamabad was organized by the chief of Tehreek-e-Labbak Pakistan, Khadim Hussain Rizvi after the long march from Lahore to Islamabad for the resignation of law minister regarding a language change in the bill of “2017 Election of Pakistan”. Everyone was shocked to hear the crude, abusive language, Rizvi and other leaders of TLP – the so-called religious scholars — used. When the government wanted to get some help from the military, they refused and asked the government to show restraint in dealing with the protesters. When the protesters after several warnings did not disperse, the government decided to respond with a force but due to lack of planning and lack of co-operation from the agencies, the government had to pull back after fights erupted in several parts of the city. This created mayhem and confusion in the cities of Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore along with some others in Punjab. By the late evening, the army chief intervened and asked “both sides” to show restraint and forced the government to sign an agreement with protesters and accept all their demands. The next day, Pakistani people witnessed on their TV screens that a high ranking uniformed military official was kissing and hugging the protesters and distributing – as media reported and was never denied by the military – Rs. 1000.00 to each protester. Ironically, when the same TLP tried to organize another sit-in in October 2018, after the PML(N) government was removed and Imran Khan’s government was in power, the protesters were not dealt with such leniency the way they were dealt during the previous sit-in. Rizvi was arrested, month after he called off his sit-in. He was released in May 2019.
Now, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has announced another sit-in and a long march on the 27th of October. How successful it will be? It all depends on how much the establishment wants to pressurize its installed government to get more space in power. However, the Imran Khan government seems ready to crush the protest using excessive force and most probably, at least initially, the military will turn its blind eye and would not urge the government to show restraint, however, if things would get out of control, the military may change the sides or at least, it would pressure the government to be cautious.
In the TV show, “The Prisoner”, when the “Number-1” observed that “the hero” was persistent and trying to escape from the village, he “secretly allowed” him to escape, but after “the hero” celebrated his successful escape, he found the painful reality that he was still in the village and he was only manipulated by “Number-1”.
It seems that we, as Pakistanis, are also the prisoners of such a village who are controlled by the powerful unknown “Number-1”. We make efforts to escape, and we – in our view – manage to escape, but when we celebrate our success we come to realize that we are still in the village and controlled by the “Number-1”.
So, the million-dollar question is: would Maulana also be successful in his long march and sit-in, or, he is “secretly allowed” to demonstrate his street power, only to find in the end that “Number-1” watched him all this time and he is still at the same place where he started.