Lawyers, who struggled for rule of law in Pakistan, have broken the law themselves. They tortured one colleague of President Pervez Musharraf. Several lawyers thrashed former federal minister for parliamentary affairs Dr Sher Afgan Niazi on Tuesday, as he tried to escape from a plaza in which lawyers had trapped him for more than five hours.
Hundreds of lawyers wielding clubs, tomatoes, shoes and rotten eggs refused to listen to the pleas of Aitzaz Ahsan, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president, and Anwar Kamal, Lahore High Court Bar Association president, to cease violence.
The lawyers’ unprovoked attack on Niazi, a heart patient, continued even after an ambulance was called to rescue him from the mob.
Token: At one stage, Aitzaz threatened resignation if the violence didn’t cease. However, Munir Malik told Dawn TV that this was a token gesture and would not be acceptable to his colleagues. Talking to the channel, Niazi claimed that the lawyers had tried to kill him.
Separately, SCBA media adviser Muhammad Azhar said that no lawyer had thrashed Niazi. He said that the people who had attacked Niazi were trying to sabotage the lawyers’ movement for restoration of the sacked judges.
Editorial of Daily Times further discussed the situation. The ex-chief minister of Sindh, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, has been maltreated inside the Sindh Assembly and in its corridors two days running. The first day he was beaten with shoes by some enraged people who had made their way into the assembly building despite strict surveillance. He complained, and his protest was duly registered by the ruling party which pledged steps against the rowdy crowd. In a gesture of grace he returned to the house the following day to take the oath he could not take earlier because of the beating he had received. Shockingly, this time too he was beaten on his head with shoes by people caught on the assembly’s short-circuit cameras.
The PPP leadership has twice apologised. A very regretful new speaker Mr Nisar Khuhro accompanied him to the seat where he was to take his oath. As he held the text of the sacred oath in front of him, shoes began to rain on him inside the assembly. Once again Mr Rahim left the assembly escorted by guards who could barely protect him, saying if he had known this was the treatment he would receive, he would not have contested the 2008 elections. The PPP cannot escape blame this time. It has been reprimanded by the walkout of opposition parties and potential allies from the session that elected the leader of the house, Mr Qaim Ali Shah.
The PPP has to mend fences with a lot of people now. And it has to realise that representative democracy is not an expression of the raw passions of the electorate but a “mediated” expression of the will of the people. Mr Asif Ali Zardari who has embarked on an enterprise of reconciliation should simply be further strengthened in his view that reaching out to the old foes and creating synergies where crippling divisions have hurt the country in the past is the only way to go. The Sindh Assembly has seen a potential ally of the PPP walk out of the house as well. The MQM has condemned the repeated incident and this could conceivably hurt the prospects of political cooperation that the two parties were striving for to give Sindh a fair economic deal.
What has been brought into focus is the fundamental issue of how far democracy should express the raw passions of the voting population in its governance. In Pakistan, as in many states in Africa, politicians tend to be democratic “literalists” and talk of “mandate of the people” based on what the people say when interviewed on TV. This is not at all the function of democracy. After getting elected the party in power has to fulfil the pledges it has made in its election manifesto with the help of the consensus it develops in parliament. This gives a lot of wiggle-room to the ruling party to achieve the optimum level of the agenda that it has set itself.
If the PPP were to succumb to the passion of its voters, it would do nothing else but revenge itself against elements that had kept it out of politics for many years. What the people want in Sindh was revealed after the assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto when the province was literally put to the torch and political opponents of the party were thrashed and their properties destroyed. The PPP disavows any connection with what happened — as it should — but it must become aware of the lava that is ready to erupt unless the party “interprets” the mandate of the people right. If it can’t do this, then the jurisprudence of its old vendetta with the MQM will take it down the path of conflict and economic disaster. So far it is following the right strategy of reconciliation at home and moderation in foreign policy.
The media too should understand the essence of representative democracy — as opposed to the “city state” where those present and voting can take decisions based on passion rather than reason. TV anchors who vent their anger on the politicians for not doing what the people asked them to do by casting their vote, should take heed and stop interpreting the popular mandate tendentiously. It is now popular media rhetoric to say that the mandate of the people was against President Musharraf, against the United States, against the war on terror, against privatisation, against the firing of the judges, etc. But this will lead to nothing but political disorder and load the rulers with tasks they cannot realistically perform. Should the media say that the mandate of the vote in Sindh was to thrash the former chief minister in the Assembly? Not at all. The PPP will have to show sincere intent in distancing itself from the shameful demonstration of Sindhi sentiment in the assembly.