What a difference a day makes. What an even bigger difference a week can make.
What an amazing and exciting week this has been for Pakistan as a nation. Its elected leaders had just recently squandered a historic opportunity to set Pakistan boldly and directly on the path to institution and nation building.
On more than one occasion, on TV and radio, I had compared Pakistan, as a nation and especially as a government, to the ship Titanic, except that this one had deliberately hit every iceberg it could find.
Just when it seemed that the current government in Islamabad had completely forgotten the lessons of history – of merely one year ago – something changed. It had appeared that the policies of Islamabad were surely and not so slowly pushing Pakistan in the direction of chaos and eventual return of martial law.
As someone who has told his share of lawyer jokes, for the last one year I have had nothing but praise and kudos for the barristers and attorneys of Pakistan. Theirs is a career dependent upon daily earnings, made from daily work outside the court houses of Pakistan. One could not have been imagined that profession as the consistent and unstoppable source of the year-long protest movement. What the lawyers of Pakistan carried out was doubly special, as they did it against not one but two tyrants within one year.
Besides self-inflicted wounds, almost exactly of the kind that General Musharraf suffered from, perhaps there was some hubris or misconception in Islamabad. Maybe there was a feeling that people in Pakistan have become immune to tyranny. Perhaps it was felt that when push comes to shove Pakistanis are so used to having people in power do what they please that nothing would come out as protest against any power grab carried out by Islamabad.
But just when it seemed that our ship PNS Titanic was headed straight into a minefield, surrounded by icebergs, in the midst of the perfect storm, the most amazing opposite perfect storm arose in response. The nation became a nation.
The Long March, as it was called, was the best example of a peaceful (at least by Pakistani standards) uprising by the people of Pakistan to have their way with an elected ruler trying to cling to, and expand, his power.
I was in Lahore in 1977 when it happened the last time. I remember driving past puddles of blood covered with ash in dozens and dozens of locations on The Mall where anti-PPP protesters had been killed by the government at that time. This time however, thankfully, the perfect storm that arose was one of common sense, decency, courage and people power.
In particular in addition to the lawyers of Pakistan, there are many people I, even as a New York-based Pakistani, want to give thanks to.
This includes Prime Minister Gilani for his understanding of which way the wind was blowing and helping President Zardari see some light. General Kayani must have had to fight the urge not to take over the government. It must have been difficult when the elected leaders were themselves creating a situation that was going to endanger not just law and order in Islamabad but bring chaos across the nation.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has grown in stature not just within Pakistan but also abroad. He is being praised for taking a stand on principle, showing patience and then being very statesmanlike in his response to broken promises from Islamabad. To then show courage and refuse house arrest to march upon Islamabad put him on a much higher level of leadership than he was at before.
Even the police officers who, after some “kaarwai“, showed common sense and decency, either to resign or to let the protesters begin their march towards Islamabad, should be considered heroes of democracy. As most of my readers and fans know from my background, during my days at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, in the early 1980s,
I was a student leader and chief organizer of QSF. The Islami Jamiate Taliba, as well as its parent, the Jamate Islami, were considered the mortal enemies of liberal organizations like ours. They even murdered Anas Choudhry, a final year student member of QSF, the year I joined UET.
But, today, as during the previous year, I am happy to give credit to this party for its principled stand against tyranny and dictatorship.
I never thought it possible, but even a member of the very political party and inner circle of Islamabad, Ms. Sherry Rehman, deserves praise for her decency, courage – and good timing – in resigning her position. It can be argued that she did it because there were others interfering in her ministry rather than what the government was doing to the independent media. But I, and the people, still give credit for her resignation.
Many of these things would not have become possible had it not been for the courageous, first-time in the life of our nation, stand of the real Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Choudhry, and his fellow judges, who resigned under General Musharraf.
They stayed out of office and jobs, despite pressure, incentives and other tricks that governments have at their disposal in Islamabad. I will avoid passing comment on the people who sold out their souls to get the appointments that they got. But I hope that this new chapter in Pakistan’s history will also be the time when we start naming our villains for future generations to remember and spit on the names of.
Another hero, an entire industry really, that is among the less respected professions around the world these days, including America, was the Pakistani media. I say this not as a member of the media but as a proud Pakistani American who was ashamed of the silent acquiescence of American media in George Bush and Dick Cheney‘s shameless rape of the American Constitution and human rights around the world.
American media cannot be shut down by any government. Yet the media here quietly let the Bush government do whatever it wanted.
The Pakistani government, through many of its Stone Age laws curtailing freedom of expression and press, can shut down almost any Pakistani media entity. The bigger they get in Pakistan, the more the government can squeeze them. Even as a teenager I know how many magazines Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto, whom I then admired, shut down for being critical of his policies. Urdu Digest was one that frequently had to reappear under other names.
I was a member of the press in Pakistan when vile dictator General Zia-ul-Haq gave many journalists a taste of what a dictator can do. He had writers’ nails pulled with pliers to make them stop criticizing him.
For the Pakistani media to have stood up, first to General Musharraf and then to the current Zardari government in Islamabad, at great risk and financial loss to themselves, is another element to celebrate in this great victory of the people. A lot of credit goes to GEO TV, Jang and many other media.
Lack of space and time prevent me from individually thanking every single group or individual, like Mr. Aitezaz Ahsan, who played a central role in this great turnaround. God bless you all, for being the new heroes of a new democracy that can still rise in our nation.
The long march may have been intended for Islamabad, but it may turn out to be something far more important.
The Long March may have become The First Step in a thousand-mile journey – to the true destiny of Pakistan – as a great, free, democratic society ready to take its place in history.
“Qadam Barhao Saathio, Qadam Barhao”
Imran Anwar is a New York and sometimes Florida based Pakistani-American entrepreneur, Internet pioneer, inventor, writer and TV personality. He can be reached through his web site http://imran.com and firstname.lastname@example.org . You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/imrananwar