It is déjà vu. The class struggle between the ‘have nots’ and the ‘haves’ continues. They have endured the weather, the trying conditions and long journeys in their cramped vehicles for a dream. 1970 is being repeated. The deep malaise of ruling elites is endemic and needs strong medicine. Status quo political parties in denial of civil liberties are intransigent. If they cede, they fear the crumbling of politics whose edifice is built on an exploitative system that suits their interests. If they fight back, the peaceful protests could become violent and spread all over the country. Within this political turbulence, sceptics do not rule out an intervention by a third visible or invisible party.

As events stand, the government is adopting a go-slow policy on reforming an election system. The exercise of accountability would discredit their legitimacy and cease to put them in power through a process they master. Pro-democracy proponents in favour of sham democracy forget that fair and transparent elections are one part of democracy. The other aspect is empowering, reflecting and delivering the will of the people. Hence, democrats of every description who wish to stand by the inertia are playing a negative role that history will never forget.

Occupation of space by the state with no capability to administer has sucked people into many dark holes. These elites permeate administration at the lowest level with Thanas, Patwaris and arm twisters. Waderaism (fiefdoms), misuse of Madaris, drug and land mafias, marketing cartels, currency operators, private armies, militancy and Gullu Butts are a reflection. The Trojan of a mind-set with the insatiable capability to permeate and control any movement is fast multiplying. The fault and notoriety of Imran Khan and Dr Qadri is that they are challenging it.  

The civil society of Pakistan that bears the primary responsibility for the rights of civil liberties is mysteriously quiet since the 80s. It came to life for the wrong reasons in the restoration of the Chief Justice. As events prove, General Musharraf was right. The so called independent judiciary has not delivered for the rights of the people who swarmed the streets during the movement, died, got wounded and endured jails. The judiciary made life exclusively miserable for the PPP government for five years. They impeded and obstructed transparency in the system. The suo moto were one sided. The apex courts remained suspiciously quiet on issues of public interest and civil rights.  

Civil Society demonstrates democratic activity outside the ambit of the state machinery. In political science, philosophers like Georg Hegel and the revolutionary theorist Karl Marx, called them an inclusive concept of ‘society minus the state’. In the twentieth century, the development of civil society is seen as a significant criterion of the development of democracy. In each culture, civil society is a reflection of the traditions, conventions and codes of behaviour outside the legal hierarchal structure of the state. Even as I write, a civil rights disobedience movement continues in Ferguson, St. Louis USA.

Civil Society is the epitome of National Power and what Hans Morgenthau calls the ‘Sweeping opportunities of National Character and Morale’. It appears the civil society of Pakistan has resigned itself to the fold of the 60% masses who do not participate in elections. Either they do not have the desire to be counted or resign themselves to petty gratifications that come their way. There are no active labour and trade unions, no effective civil rights groups, no student movements, no revolutionary poets like Faiz, Faraz, Jalib, Daman and Munir Niazi. Pseudo liberals living off NGOs and grants fail to realise that the fight for civil liberties is always fought on the streets to pressurise the legislature and executive in the right direction.

The All India Muslim League grew out of the Mohamadden Education Movement, itself a civil society organisation. In a resource starved, post-1947 Pakistan, it was mostly civic organisations that took on the onerous tasks of rehabilitating refugees, running education institutions and promoting egalitarianism. Even today, it is civil society that remains the most vibrant and effective means of relief.

The role of village panchaits, jirgas, joint community care, and collective participation in celebrations and mourning are aspects that are still practised.  In Pakistan, multiple inheritances give rise to unresolved struggles between the practices and values of authoritarian legacies and democratic aspirations. Post colonialism a new class of neo colonialists has emerged with an exclusive fiefdom of its own. Governments once elected forget their legislative functions to expand space into the executive. In Pakistan, all elections represent an inclusive strain, but once done, governments recluse themselves to an exclusive domain. Workers who accomplish all the donkey work are ignored. The present government calls it the loser while President Zardari used to refer to them as political jokers. The result is a complete disconnect from the constituencies.  

The massive sit-ins on Constitution Avenue cannot be dismissed as unconstitutional power politics. These are demands of two political parties that focus exclusively on civil liberties. They are a reaction to the suffocation within a rigged legislature that refuses to bridge the gap between the people and state and holds fundamental rights of its citizens in abeyance for its vested interests.

The struggle can no more be described as an agitation by particular groups to wrest political power unconstitutionally. The call is for complete transparency. It is a desire and aspiration to truly empower the people and bring meaning to the sanctity of the ballot and power to the people as enunciated in the constitution. This has remained the missing link ever since Quaid e Azam laid out Pakistan’s social contract on 11th August, 1947.

Civil society needs to galvanise and throw up new leadership capable of exerting relentless pressure on the government and political parties. The silent majority has to venture out of their homes.  People need to reoccupy space they have ceded. The success of this movement depends on the people. If they come out and be counted, the wide gulf between the people and the state may be bridged in the future. If they do not, a cause would have been lost to exploitative politics.

Those who are unwilling to join this Civil Liberties Campaign have to do so vociferously. Keyboard revolutionaries should never ever criticise the system. They will live in captivity for a century.

n    Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.