First came the Arab Spring and then the Indian Summer of Discontent. Pakistan has been watching both keenly with some hoping that these winds of change will be strong enough to blow into this country and set off a similar movement.
Compared with each other, the Indian events of the past week seem to be having a bigger impact on Pakistanis since corruption is as much an issue here as it is in India and regime change is, in any case, something Pakistan is only too familiar with.
Already two individuals have announced protest actions that will come into effect after Eid. While 68-year-old Raja Jehangir Akhtar has decided to go on a fast-unto-death from September 12 against corruption and high defence expenditure, human rights activist Ansar Burney will launch his protest action after Eid to mobilise opinion against terrorism and, yes, corruption.
Both have been activists but draw strength from the popular sentiment displayed in India against corruption. Demanding a Jan Lokpal Bill for Pakistan, Mr. Akhtar has decided to set his goalposts exactly the way Anna Hazare decides for his campaign. “If Anna Saheb decides on a particular timeline and gives Parliament a certain number of days to enact the law, I will also do the same,’’ he said; sitting among his small group of supporters spanning from collegiates to retired gentlemen.
That, however, is just one side of the response to the campaign in India; a view that has been articulated by several columnists in search of Pakistan’s own Anna Hazare while admitting that there is no one in sight at the moment. “India is likely to gain from this internal convulsion while a diffused effort in Pakistan is likely to go waste, losing the historicity of an opportune moment without a mend of its structural decay,’’ wrote Shahzad Chaudhry in The Express Tribune.
Indian Constitution and judiciary
On the other side of the spectrum are people like lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani who believes that the greatest South Asian achievement over the last 500 years is the Indian Constitution of 1950. “This constitution — and the fierce independence of Indian judiciary — is largely responsible in making India a credible world economic power. Give it enough time and India will shake off the dust of lethargy and become a first rate world power but this will require patience and complete faith in the Indian constitution and judicial process.’’
“Very skeptical’’ of Anna Hazare’s movement that seeks to use Gandhian methods to overturn this process, Mr. Hamdani is of the view that “it is very dangerous to have a concocted saint riding the tiger of self righteous middle class opinion. What is true of India is even more so for Pakistan. Pakistan does not have a perfect constitution and its democratic institutions are extremely frail. Consequently corruption is endemic. Yet the process requires continuity in Pakistan. With enough elections these problems will solve themselves.’’
Though Pakistan sees periodic debates in the media on the need for change, there are voices – though not often reflected in the media-driven narrative – which want the political process that has been in motion for the past three years to function despite all its faults and serious issues of governance. “We cannot afford to have a constitutional government overthrown again,’’ is an oft-repeated refrain.
Pak’s religious right
For one, there is the fear that any such movement will be hijacked by the religious right. Writing on the blog Let Us Build Pakistan, Suleman Akhtar said: “These surges are destined to fell prey in the hands of the far-right that seize the moment by hijacking the zeal. The most glaring example in Pakistan is the fate of the so-called movement for restoration of judiciary. The same judiciary that once was beacon of hope has gone overboard in giving the clean chit to convicted terrorists and publically castigating the notion of secularism whilst undermining the supremacy of the elected Parliament. These lawyers who once were pioneers of the movement have been found showering roses upon a self-confessed killer.’’
Given the addictive nature of the television footage and understanding its appeal, civil society activists and die-hard advocates of democracy like Marvi Sirmed and journalist Beena Sarwar could be seen constantly posting the “other voice” of the discourse in India on social networking sites to present a complete picture to a people looking for a way out of the morass that Pakistan is in.
Keywords: Anna Hazare fast, Government-civil society talks, Team Anna, Jan Lokpal, anti-corruption movement, India Against Corruption, Ramlila Maidan, South Asia politics