On August 14th, comrades of change will march on to the capital of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. From Qayyum Khan’s long march of October 1958 to the mammoth movement for restoration of the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) in 2007, the country has had a history of marches. And perhaps this is the only civilized country in the world that is afraid of its own people. There is a huge disconnect between the rulers and the ruled and as such every march has been effective with the proposed “Azadi March” being no exception.

The nation must learn from history and realign its approach to such demonstrations. Nawaz Sharif has been around for years. After his royal launch in politics during the Zia era, he has seen it all. Democracy cannot survive without the sanctity of the ballot. Manipulated election results compromise the mandate. Unfortunately, every election after 1970 has been fixed, resulting in chaos and poor governance. No wonder Islamabad is unable and unwilling to face the marchers.

The elections of 1977 and 2013 have a lot in common. Both were rigged by parties that were clear winners. ZAB was the architect of the 1973 constitution; the undisputed Quaid-e-Awam, yet some members of his party went overboard in disrupting the electoral process. Elections were voluntarily announced ahead of schedule by the incumbent Prime Minister, yet the mandate was disputed. In 2013, the government of PPP completed its five year term and went for elections.

The party in power did not repeat the folly of 1977, but unfortunately, Takht-e-Lahore was not that scrupulous. The caretaker government in the Punjab remained subservient to the former rulers fearing their return to power. In July 1977, ZAB agreed to hold fresh elections as he believed in the electorate. Both parties agreed to determine the will of the masses through a fair and jointly monitored electoral process. This is exactly the demand of the marchers in 2014. Democracy calls for negotiated solutions, agreed across the table.

Once the chargers leave for Islamabad, the rulers will have to give in but at a much higher cost to the nation and its nascent democracy. In July 1977, Pakistan was a progressive democratic state that was ruined by Zia’s unwanted martial law. Had the agreement been implemented and fresh elections held as agreed, there would have been no detour in Pakistan’s journey as an Asian Tiger. Between now and August 14th there still remains time to settle differences democratically. The frame work of the 1977 PPP – PNA agreement provides a road map to resolve the crisis. Delay did not help then and will certainly be detrimental now.

For us, this is a legacy march; perhaps the last for our ageing generation. From Qayyum Khan’s march in 1958 to the coming charge this Independence Day, the comrades of change are battle hardened. The fortifications of Islamabad cannot contain those who march for justice, for history is on their side. Fresh elections after major electoral reform are the only way forward. Azadi calls for the will of the people to prevail. The attached agreement of July 1977 can resolve this impasse; the ball is in the Sharif’s court and they should no longer fumble with it. After 37 years, our struggle for democracy continues.

The details of the July 1977 Agreement between PPP and the PNA are as follows.

n    Negotiations began on June 03, 1977 and went through thirteen rounds.

n    A little before midnight, on July 03, 1977, the two sides reached an agreement leaving a few minor points for ZAB to consider.

n    On July 04, 1977, ZAB accepted all of the PNA demands and fresh elections were to be announced.

n    Agreement was to be signed on July 05, 1977 but instead Zia imposed martial law.

Terms of the agreement were -

n    Restoration of the Army Act of 1952, since it allowed all persons convicted by military courts to stand acquitted.

n    All restrictions on the press to be lifted with balanced coverage of official media – press or PTV.

n    ECP would comprise of one chairperson and four members to be appointed with the consent of the PNA.

n    ECP would have both financial and administrative powers.

n    ECP was also to have the powers of a high court to release persons on bail or to suspend arrest.

n    The draft also included a mechanism of announcing election results.

n    All arms’ licenses issued after Jan 01, 1977 stood suspended and arms deposited at the nearest military armory.

n    Till polls, the PM was not to make any policy decision affecting revenue and state property.

n    No political party would be banned till that time.

n    There would be an Implementation Council of ten members - five from each side to be headed by the PM. The decisions would be unanimous. In case of any disagreement, the matter would be referred to the SCP to be decided within 72 hours.

 The writer is ex-chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.

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