Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).


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After ‘Gangnam style’ revolution ends! , Daily Times, 19/1/2013

OVER A COFFEE : After ‘Gangnam style’ revolution ends! — Dr Haider Shah

Now as the marchers have decamped and the dust has settled, we can heave some sigh of relief that the infant democracy has finally learnt how to stand on its own feet

Addressing the ‘inqilab’ (revolution) chanting crowd upon reaching Islamabad, Dr Tahirul Qadri sounded like Maximilien Robespierre of the French Revolution. It seemed that soon after the fall of the Bastille (Islamabad), ‘guillotines’ would be erected in the streets of all major cities of Pakistan, as the leader of the revolution announced the dissolution of the Assemblies. Gradually, the dharna (sit-in) turned into a camping site of holidaying families and, by the third day one could easily feel Dr Qadri pleading desperately, ‘I am a celebrity, get me out of here.’

Just as Altaf Hussain’s ‘drone’ proved to be a damp squib, Dr Qadri’s march fizzled out without achieving anything. Social media sites, including our rationalist society group, began making fun of the accord reached inside a dabba (box), so phrases like ‘dabba revolution’ and many cartoons pooh-poohed the revolutionary leader. The three days might not have shaken the world but it would also be unfair not to appreciate some positive outcomes that intentionally or unintentionally were achieved by a very unique experiment carried out by a very controversial personality of our public life. The peaceful manner in which the protest took place is a pleasant break from our past experiences. Never before did we see a crowd of this size behaving in so orderly and decent a manner. Even if religious devotion is cited as the organising force, the crowd at no moment looked outlandishly parochial. They were mostly lower middle class families and did not behave or sound like the activists of sectarian outfits or the Taliban. They seemed to be enjoying themselves while facing bravely the hardships thrown at them by the inclement weather. The active participation of women in the protest should inspire those women who always moan about gender discrimination but never leave the comfort of their living rooms to organise a suffragist movement. Towards the end, in an ironic twist, I began to like Dr Qadri. With the massive weight of Canadian nationality tied around his neck, and despite a hostile media after him constantly, he remained steadfast and singlehandedly held the whole country to ransom for so many days. Not everyone can do this.

At no moment was anyone under any illusion that Dr Qadri could pose any serious challenge to the government. On his own, Dr Qadri was more of comic relief. He, however, generated concerns and fears on two accounts. Our political history created a perception that he might be acting as a Trojan horse and would soon be followed by the real demolition squad. Both Altaf Hussain and Imran Khan kept lurking in the background as if getting ready to begin phase two of the plan. When the arrest order of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was splashed as breaking news by the national media, my first thought was, “Et tu, Chief Justice!” The second concern was on account of the prevailing security situation of the country. A gathering of thousands in the capital is a very attractive target for any terrorist, as it would provide maximum publicity and cause serious damage to the writ of the state. Thankfully, neither fear turned into a reality in the end. Now as the marchers have decamped and the dust has settled, we can heave some sigh of relief that the infant democracy has finally learnt how to stand on its own feet and not become a bespoke suit that is regularly altered to fit the music director.

Despite the media hype created by the march and the dharna, the activity was insignificant in terms of its stated objectives. The year 2013 is very different from the earlier shameful periods of the history of Pakistan. In almost all military takeovers in the past, two favourable conditions were in operation. First, Punjab would generally remain pro-establishment and take no time in embracing the coup. Second, the opposition leaders would become willing collaborators. This time the situation is entirely different. Not only is Punjab not pro-establishment, the opposition leaders are even more united in their condemnation of any unconstitutional move. All provincial governments also remain pro-democracy and, barring a few shady personalities, the media has thrown its weight behind the democratic forces as well. In this environment, the courts will also find it extremely difficult to legitimise any extra-constitutional move by any adventurist. It, therefore, is heartening to see that Pakistan, despite all its problems, is developing democratic institutions. The stronger these institutions become, the more difficult it would be for any adventurist to derail the system.

The demands made by Dr Qadri already enjoyed national consensus. However, it was generally perceived that he wanted some unelected people to use disqualification powers under Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution as a Damocles’ sword to ensure ‘controlled democracy’ in Pakistan. It is worth noting that ‘qualifications’ and ‘disqualifications’ are essentially of two types. The first are verifiable, for example, age, nationality, and bank default as through documentary evidence these can be ascertained by any impartial forum such as the Election Commission or the courts. But the subjective ones, like ‘sagacious’, ‘patriotic’, ‘righteous’, ‘good Muslim’, etc, are non-verifiable and therefore it is better we let the collective wisdom of the electorate decide on these.

When the ‘Gangnam style’ revolution reached its conclusion and the negotiators were exchanging pleasantries, two demons were again raising their heads. In Karachi, an MQM member of parliament was gunned down by the Lashker-e-Jhangvi/Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan target killers. And a Supreme Court bench issued an order for the registration of a blasphemy case against Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman for opposing the blasphemy law. When a police commando becomes Mumtaz Qadri, we are rightly worried. And we get more worried when we see lawyers garlanding Mumtaz Qadri. But we would be most worried when Mumtaz Qadri begins wearing the robe as well.

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com