Civil society engagement in democratic transition in Pakistan | United Nations University Press

This article was published in 2010 by United Nations University Press in a book ‘Engaging civil society: Emerging trends in democratic governance’. the article can be accessed at the following link.

Democracy in Pakistan has not been a linear process. The socio-political history of the nation has been punctuated by military rule and the ebb and flow of civil society agitation, largely in response to such martial leadership. Therefore, it is useful to discuss very briefly the political history of Pakistan, as each regime provides context for the forms of civil society that arose. Subsequent to this examination, student activism, lawyers’ movement and media as dominant forms of civil society engagement with the state and advocacy for democracy will be discussed in particular. Student activism is the locus of Pakistan’s historical narrative of independence and emblematic of the struggles of civil society writ large. Pakistan came into being through a democratic process when Muslims gave a clear mandate to the pro-Pakistan party, All India Muslim League, in the legislative assemblies’ election in 1946. Pakistan started off as a parliamentary form of democracy, but took the rather long time of nine years to frame its constitution. Four military coups, starting with one in 1958 and followed by others in 1969, 1977 and 1999, disrupted the democratic political order repeatedly, resulting in long spells of military rule. There was resistance against military rule from various segments of civil society, culminating in powerful agitation that at times has led to the downfall of the military rulers. The struggles against the rule of Field Marshal Ayub Khan (1958–1969) and General Yahya Khan (1969–1972) are two such examples. People’s struggles against the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1987) and General Pervez Musharraf (1999–2008) were no less valiant, but these could not translate into street agitation powerful enough to sweep the military rulers from their positions.

Historical evolution of civil society among Muslims of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent

The institutional forms of civil society are distinct from those of the state, family and market; though in practice the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated.1 Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil society in the undivided India and among Muslims of this part of the world has traditionally been active and vibrant. Its focus might have changed with time, but many of the functions associated with civil society today have existed among the people of this area for a long time. Activism of civil society in the geographic area that now forms Pakistan and in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent is therefore not a new phenomenon. The following paragraphs present some of the most prominent examples and features of civil society during its historical evolution. The Aligarh Movement (named after a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) is one of the most prominent landmarks in the evolution of civil society among Indian Muslims, and played a decisive role in the movement for the creation of Pakistan. The movement was founded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, and its focus was on education of Muslims and reform of Muslim society in India. Sir Syed built the Gulshan School in Muradabad in 1859, set up the Victoria School in Ghazipur in 1863, set up the Scientifi c Society in Aligarh in 1864, founded the Committee Striving for the Educational Progress of Muslims in 1870 and established the historical Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental School, Aligarh, in 1875 on the pattern of English public schools. Sir Syed also founded the Muhammadan Educational Conference in 1886, which later became the political mouthpiece of Indian Muslims and was the forerunner of the largest political party of Indian Muslims – the All India Muslim League, which spearheaded the Pakistan Movement (Upadhyay, 2003). The Anjuman Himayet-e-Islam (Society for the Support of Islam) was founded in 1884, had headquarters in Lahore and worked mainly for the education and welfare of Muslims and reform of Muslim society. It established a number of educational institutions which played a significant role in the emancipation of backward and marginalized Muslim communities. Many of these institutions still exist, and some have been nationalized by the state. The Islamia College Lahore and Himayet-e-Islam Law College are two examples of such institutions. In addition to numerous other charitable services, the Anjuman is running an orphanage (established in 1884), shelters for destitute men and women, religious educational institutions for both sexes, a co-educational public school, the Himayat-eIslam Tibya (Eastern Medicine) College, the Himayat-e-Islam Clinic and a library. Waqf, or trust, is a long-held tradition in Muslim society which provides a sustainable base to a wide section of civil society among Muslims. In Muslim law a waqf is a voluntary, permanent, irrevocable dedication of a portion of one’s wealth – in cash or kind – to Allah. Once dedicated as a waqf, the funds/property are never gifted, inherited or sold. They belong to Allah, and the corpus of the waqf always remains intact. The fruits of the waqf may be utilized for any shari’ah (“sacred law”)-compliant purpose. The waqf is a system that stems from the idea of institutionalizing voluntary giving in order to guarantee sustainability. The waqf in Islamic law, which developed in the medieval Islamic world from the seventh to the ninth centuries, bears a notable resemblance to the English trust law. The evolution and growth of civil society among Muslims, including in what is presently known as Pakistan, owe a lot to the tradition of waqf, at least in the past before other forms of financial support became fashionable.

Political activism of civil society during the Pakistan Movement

Civil society, as it existed in India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, played a significant and in many ways decisive role in shaping the political thought of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. The most notable manifestation of this contribution can be found in the creation of Pakistan itself. The Aligarh Movement, initially a non-political educational and reform movement, not only germinated what later came to be known as the Pakistan Movement, but also mobilized its most dedicated and untiring workers. The Aligarh Movement no doubt was at the vanguard of struggle for Pakistan, and inspired a number of other individuals to establish similar institutions in other parts of India. It also provided inspiration for the formation of the Muslim Students Federation (MSF) and Pakistan Muslim League, which ultimately led to the creation of Pakistan. The MSF, inspired and manned by the Aligarh Muslim University to a great extent, provided the most dynamic, dedicated and knowledgeable workers for the Pakistan Movement. The All India Muslim League, which claimed to be the representative party of Indian Muslims, had faced a somewhat humiliating defeat in the election of 1937 when it won just 104 seats out of a total 489 reserved for Muslims (Mehmood, 2002: 20). The party, however, emerged as a significant force over the next nine years, and in 1946 it won all the seats reserved for Muslims in the Central Assembly and 439 out of 494 Muslim seats in the provincial assemblies (ibid.: 27). This could be attributed at least partly to the struggle of the students organized under the banner of the MSF. These students suspended their studies for months and spread all over India to campaign for the All India Muslim League. This was one of the most notable contributions of civil society to the political struggle of Muslims in the subcontinent. Women were another dedicated segment of civil society who played an important role in this political struggle. They were active and passionate participants in all processions, rallies and agitations organized to support the creation of Pakistan.

Evolution of students’ activism for democracy in Pakistan

One of the most vibrant sections of Pakistani civil society has been the students’ organizations and the elected student unions. These groups played a very active and significant role in setting the stage for civil society activism in Pakistan. Students groups waged a valiant struggle against military dictatorships and civilian leadership that did not meet the aspirations of the citizens. While the MSF existed before the creation of Pakistan, a number of other students’ organizations came into existence soon after its creation. The students’ organizations and unions have existed on college and university campuses since the independence of Pakistan in 1947. The Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF) and the Islami Jamiate-Talaba (IJT) were formed soon after the creation of Pakistan: the IJT was established on 23 December 1947 at Lahore; the DSF was founded at Gordon College Rawalpindi in 1948 and was later extended to Karachi in 1950. Initially students’ problems were the main focus of the DSF, but it was generally perceived as an organization of progressive/leftist students. The DSF later merged into a broader platform called the All Pakistan Students Organization. The Girls Students Congress also appeared on the horizon of Karachi around the same time. Interestingly, most of the students’ organizations had and still have close links with whichever political party is closest to their “ideology”. For example, the MSF is still associated with the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and has almost as many factions as the PML itself. The IJT is associated with the Jama’at-eIslami. The People’s Students’ Federation is traditionally aligned with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The National Students’ Federation was generally regarded as an organization of the left; the Anjuman Talaba-eIslam was affiliated with the Jamiat Ulama-e-Pakistan; the Imamia Students Organisation is an organization of Shi’ite students. There are a number of ethnic students’ organizations, active mainly where these ethnic groups are either concentrated or where ethnic rivalry is relatively more pronounced, such as in Karachi. The Pakhtun Students’ Federation, the Baloch Students’ Organisation (BSO), the Punjabi Students’ Federation, the Jiye Sindh Students Federation and the All Pakistan Muttahida Student Organization (APMSO) are some examples of such organizations. In many cases political parties preceded the creation of their affiliated students’ organizations, but in the case of the APMSO it led to the creation of one of the most disciplined, dynamic and electorally successful political parties – initially called the Mohajir Quami Movement (which roughly translates as the National Movement of Migrants). The party later changed its name and is now known as the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which can be translated as United National Movement. Students’ organizations have traditionally participated in student union elections with a lot of enthusiasm, although some candidates for offices of the students’ unions have been independent, with no association with a students’ organization. Until they were banned in 1984, students’ unions were, in general, bodies that were formally recognized by the administration of educational institutions. In most cases fees at these institutions included explicit or implicit charges for the students’ union; these funds were provided to the elected office-bearers of the students’ union, and the unions spent the money under a set of guidelines. Usually a staff adviser or a director of students’ affairs, or both, was appointed by the college/university administration to work closely with students’ unions and act as the union’s primary contact with the administration. In most colleges/universities the administration provided office space, furniture and facilities to students’ unions to carry out their functions. In almost all cases a constitution and by-laws governed the functioning of the students’ unions. Students’ unions and organizations played a very active role in various national political movements, whether related to students or not. The students’ movement against the draconian West Pakistan University Ordinance of 1962 forced the otherwise very strong and authoritarian government of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, president of Pakistan, and of Malik Amir Muhammad Khan, governor of West Pakistan (today’s Pakistan), to revise the ordinance. Students played a significant role in the political movement against the Tashkent Declaration signed by President Ayub Khan with India in 1966, which gradually built up to a strong national campaign to oust Ayub Khan in 1969. Another strong students’ movement, mostly of the rightist students’ organizations that dominated the students’ unions at that time, was against the recognition of Bangladesh by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government in 1972. The political movement of the Pakistan National Alliance for the ousting of Bhutto’s government in 1977 also involved a large body of students. Bhutto’s era probably saw the greatest activism of students in national affairs. He was idealized by a large number of young people, especially students, at least during the days of his struggle against Field Marshal Ayub Khan and the early days of his government. He made students’ unions a part of the universities’ governance structure. For example, presidents of the students’ union were made members of the university syndicate, the highest decision-making body of a university, the university Senate, academic council and disciplinary committee through new legislation. He invited the elected office-bearers of students’ unions from all over Pakistan for consultation before he travelled to India as the president of Pakistan to negotiate over prisoners of war and related subjects after the defeat of the country in the 1971 war. This political activism continued for quite some time, even after martial law was imposed by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1977, until it started threatening the Zia regime. Political parties took considerable interest in student politics, especially the elections. In many cases this interest became active involvement, leading to partisan polarization and even violence on the campuses. A major part of students’ union activities consisted of debates, declamation contests, poetry sessions, music concerts, etc., and these promoted a competitive spirit among students to excel in various fields other than studies. Elections provided an excellent opportunity to learn how a democratic process worked. This promoted democratic culture, tolerance to opposing views, accepting the verdict of the majority and working with others, including opponents. It also helped students acquire organizational skills, interpersonal abilities and enhanced communication skills. Unfortunately, as the importance and influence of students’ unions increased over the years, political parties’ interference increased and became more direct in many cases. Elections, especially in large universities, became more expensive and money started flowing from sources outside the campuses in a bid to influence the elections. The initial trend of academically bright students leading the students’ union elections was replaced by the domination of students’ unions by the favourites of one or other political party. Ruling political parties also started playing a greater role, and even tried to influence university administrations to take sides in student politics in some cases. In isolated cases, student leaders used strong-arm tactics against not only rival students but also teachers and university administrations. Some student leaders developed commercial interests and received compensation from contractors or suppliers of goods and services to the university in return for allowing them to work smoothly or using their influence on behalf of the contractors with the university administration. As society became more politically polarized, so did the campuses. In response to the unjust interference by some of the ruling parties in patronizing their favourite individuals or organizations, other students and organizations started resisting such trends, which soon transformed into armed clashes on the campuses. Although these sad developments cannot be generalized, nor were they unique to Pakistan, a feeling started growing among a section of teachers, parents, students and administrators that student politics was adversely affecting the primary function of the educational institutions – imparting education. Instead of making serious efforts to reform the system, the government in 1984 opted for an easy but short-sighted solution by banning the students’ unions – a proverbial throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These students’ unions have played a role in student mobilization and involvement in national-level movements, and provided a platform for positions on international issues as well. They have demonstrated their concern for matters which may not necessarily have been in line with the stance taken by the establishment. Hence, organized student bodies have been able to create an identity and importance of their own. Students’ unions have been able to rally for better facilities, improvement in academics and the like. They have also been able to mobilize the student body to show their support for or opposition to certain policies or actions of the government of the day. The colleges and universities have served as a nursery for nurturing political thought not necessarily in line with that of the establishment. They served as a platform to allow the entry of leaders from middle and lower classes on the same footing with those from well-endowed families with political backgrounds. Many such student leaders went on to become recognized political leaders. Javed Hashmi, president of Punjab University Students’ Union in 1972, became a member of the National Assembly (MNA), a federal minister and acting president of the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz; Liaqat Baloch, another person of modest family background and president of Punjab University Students’ Union during 1975, went on to be elected as MNA and a vice president of the Jama’ate-Islami; Jahangir Badar, president of the Hailey College of Commerce, Lahore, in 1971 was later elected as MNA and a senator, became a federal minister and is the secretary-general of the largest political party of Pakistan, the PPP; Ahsan Iqbal, who served as federal minister and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission after his election to the National Assembly in 1997 and 2008, was president of the Engineering University Students Union, Lahore in 1981; Ghulam Abbas, another student leader of Punjab University in the early 1980s, is currently the secretary-general of the Punjab PPP; Altaf Hussain, the quaid (leader) of the MQM, founded the APMSO and started his leadership career from student politics in Karachi University in the early 1980s; and most of the Baloch leadership in Balochistan, including Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch, former president of the National Party, were very active in the BSO during their student life in Karachi and elsewhere. These are just a few examples, but the fact is that the students’ unions and their activities, including elections, served as a great democratic experience for students and prepared them for a leadership role in post-college life. The military government of General Zia-ul-Haq, that ruled the country after 1977 when it staged a coup against the civilian government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, banned the students’ unions and some students’ organizations in 1984 through a series of martial law orders. As discussed previously, a growing number of cases of violence on campuses, and the subsequent concern shown by society, were cited as reasons for the ban. However, it is also believed that the decision was based on reports that anti-government student alliances had gained considerable influence and strength and could potentially pose a threat to General Zia-ul-Haq’s government. The government, it appears, feared a student movement of the sort that helped topple President Ayub Khan’s government in 1969, and decided to forestall such a possibility by banning students’ unions and similar organizations. The ban was put into effect with the issuing of martial law orders by martial law administrators of various zones, which roughly corresponded to the provinces. Martial Law Order No. 1371 was issued on 9 February 1984 by the martial law administrator of Zone A (Punjab) to ban students’ unions. Similarly, Martial Law Order No. 227 was issued on 11 February 1984 by the administrator of Zone C (Sindh) to ban students’ unions and federations in Sindh province (PILDAT, 2008). The ban dealt one of the most fatal blows to the activism of students, who constituted the most vibrant and dedicated segment of civil society in Pakistan at the time. Over a period of time the students became totally depoliticized and disinterested in national affairs, and their hitherto active participation in national movements supporting democracy and opposing dictatorship declined to the level of almost non-existence. This period of almost total disinterest on the part of students continued for a good 23 years, until their active participation in protests and rallies against the dictatorial and anti-democratic policies of the president/chief of army staff, General Pervez Musharraf, especially against his act of declaring a state of “emergency” on 3 November 2007 in gross violation of the constitution. The protesting students, many of whom belonged to socalled élitist institutions such as the Lahore University of Management Sciences, played a significant role in building the momentum against the general which forced him fi rst to relinquish his army position and eventually to resign as the president of Pakistan. This sudden awakening from a deep slumber appeared to be greatly inspired and motivated by the lawyers’ movement, which had started its historic and heroic struggle against the removal of the chief justice of Pakistan at the hands of General Musharraf on 9 March 2007.

Evolution of the media and impact on the struggle for democracy

Besides students and lawyers, mass communication media have waged a noble struggle for democracy in Pakistan. As a result of this long and persistent effort, media in Pakistan have come a long way since the creation of the country, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of quality, the freedom they enjoy compared to the past and the public trust in the media. Today, Pakistan has 168 major newspapers and 58 television channels, of which seven are owned by the government.3 Despite restrictions and legal obstacles, the media have always been able to stand by the forces struggling for democracy in the country. Both working journalists and independent media owners have paid a heavy price for their independent views. Media have not only stood up to military dictators but have also criticized the undemocratic actions of the civilian and elected leadership. The introduction of non-government electronic media is like a breath of fresh air in the media scene of Pakistan. They have widened the choices of people, increased public consciousness and knowledge, and increased monitoring and public accountability of government actions. Live coverage of violence on the eve of the deposed chief justice’s visit to Karachi on 12 May 2007 was one of the high points of the Pakistani electronic media, when they managed to show the excesses of government-backed hooligans in the face of the threat to the lives of journalists and technicians. The mobilization of public opinion against the unconstitutional removal of the chief justice would also not have been possible without the bold and effective coverage by the electronic media. The lawyers’ movement for the restoration of deposed judges found a strong and committed ally in the media, especially the electronic media. Live coverage of public protests, huge rallies and the deposed chief justice’s receptions and speeches relating to the lawyers’ movement led to a mass mobilization of people from segments of society which have traditionally remained aloof, such as housewives, the rural population and students from élite institutions. Media have played a critical role in the transition to democracy. They have a much greater role to play in the consolidation of the democratic order in Pakistan.

Crises of democracy and the civil society response

The first martial law and reign of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, 1958–1969

Pakistan has faced a number of crises in its 62 years of existence. In each crisis, Pakistan’s civil society responded in support of democracy, putting up resistance to dictatorship, although the response in each case was different both qualitatively and quantitatively. The first major crisis that hit the nascent democracy in Pakistan was the martial law imposed in 1958 by the then president, Iskandar Mirza. General Ayub Khan, who was the commander-in-chief of the army at that time, was appointed the chief martial law administrator. Within days, Ayub Khan removed Iskandar Mirza and eventually assumed the presidency, as well starting a long spell of autocratic rule that lasted until 1969. Besides a number of political parties, the segments of civil society that played an active role in resisting the anti-democratic policies of Ayub Khan included students, lawyers and journalists. Students protested during the Ayub era in various movements. The first forceful action was against the infamous University Ordinance in 1962. A set of draconian measures, including confiscation of degrees rightfully earned by students, were included in the law in order to suppress student activism and free spirit. Students organized a nationwide protest movement, which was a miracle in itself given the strict restrictions on movement, speech and association. Strikes and walk-outs were staged at almost all major universities and colleges in Pakistan. Thousands of students were arrested, tortured, expelled from colleges and universities, and exiled from their cities of residence. Their parents and close relatives were often harassed, but even these measures could not break the strong will of the students. The movement culminated in the eventual withdrawal of the Ayub University Ordinance. Another protest movement gained momentum after Ayub Khan signed the Tashkent Declaration in 1966, which many in Pakistan considered to be a betrayal and capitulation. Again the students went on strike, and protest rallies were staged. The government once again tried to suppress the protest with brute force, leading to arrests, torture, rustication of students and harassment of relatives. The movement underwent various phases but somehow continued sporadically until 1968, when Ayub Khan’s government started celebrating the decade-long rule of the general as “the decade of development”. The protests gained momentum and the state resorted to increased suppression. Eventually Ayub Khan had to resign under the pressure of these protests. Lawyers were the other civil society group who were at the forefront of protest against the autocratic government of Ayub Khan. Lawyers are one of the few organized civil society groups in the country; their network of bar associations extends from the federal capital to each small town where courts exist. A tradition of regular yearly democratic elections at each level of the Bar Association gives great vitality and strength to the lawyers’ organizations. Lawyers were among the first civil society groups to resist and protest against the autocratic and undemocratic regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. They regularly boycotted the courts, went on protest processions and suspended the membership of many ministers and ruling party offi cials who also happened to be lawyers. Since lawyers are among the most knowledgeable people about the constitution and law, their opinion about the legitimacy, constitutionality and legality of the acts of the Ayub regime carried a lot of weight for the general public and even the media. Bar associations provided a much-needed platform to the politicians of opposition parties, who were generally under severe restrictions relating to their speech and movement. When the Ayub government resorted to the imposition of draconian restrictions on the right of assembly of more than five persons in a public place, the lawyers innovated processions in which small groups of five persons each would walk at a distance from other similar groups, thus conforming to the letter of the law and still being able to achieve the objective of public protest against the policies of an undemocratic government. Lawyers also volunteered to defend victims of the Ayub regime’s suppression in various courts of law without any fee. The Ayub era also witnessed some of the worst restrictions on the freedom of media. Electronic media were at that time limited to the state-owned Pakistan Television, which was used as a propaganda tool of the government and the ruling party. It did not broadcast or cover opposition parties’ activities, in effect creating a media blackout. This was consistent with explicit and implicit policies of non-coverage for any activity or utterance critical of the government. With the advent of the 1958 martial law regime, the media in Pakistan suffered their greatest and most agonizing setback. The regime introduced the Press and Publications (Amendment) Ordinance 1963. It started its invasion of the media by taking over the independent weekly Lail-o-Nahar. 4 Not content with this, the regime went further and brought into existence what came to be known as the National Press Trust (NPT) by taking over at least 14 established national dailies and weeklies and their chain editions, including The Pakistan Times (Lahore and Rawalpindi), Imroze (Lahore, Karachi and Multan), the Morning News (Karachi and Dacca), Dianik Pakistan (Dacca) and Mashriq (Lahore and Karachi). The government tightly controlled the policy of the NPT newspapers and the APP.5 The laws governing the grant of permission (declaration) to publish a newspaper or periodical made it extremely difficult for an independent individual or organization to secure such permission. Printing presses which dared to publish material critical of the government were sealed. The Ayub regime was the first to use government advertisements as a tool to patronize pro-government media by paying for a high volume of advertisements. This was conversely used to punish those newspapers and periodicals which were critical of the government. Many independent newspapers and periodicals were banned and their declarations cancelled during the Ayub regime. Working journalists protested through their representative bodies, but were often victimized by arrests, torture and pressure on employers to fi re the independent-minded journalists. Despite these draconian laws and practices, many newspapers resisted the pressure and continued to project the opposition’s point of view. The Urdu daily Nawa-e-Waqt paid a heavy price for its independence, but stuck to as independent a policy as was possible under the circumstances. Working journalists in Pakistan are also organized through a network of press clubs in large and small cities and through their trade union, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ). The PFUJ has waged a relentless crusade for the noble cause of freedom of the press and of expression. Newspaper owners and publishers had also formed their organization in 1950. Originally it was called the Pakistan Newspapers Society, but later its name was changed to All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) in 1953.6 The professional editors also formed their own body, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), which has continued since its foundation in 1957.7 All these bodies made an effort to resist the government pressure, but major resistance was primarily offered by working journalists through the PFUJ. The long struggle waged by the journalists for the freedom of media did eventually yield results, and today Pakistani media are reasonably free and quite comparable with most countries with free media. This freedom, many say, was not presented to Pakistani media on a platter; this well-deserved right was hard earned. The PFUJ opposed and criticized all dictatorial measures. It called for a joint action against the Press Ordinance, formed a joint committee with the APNS and CPNE and observed a countrywide protest strike on 9 September 1963.

General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law (1977–1988) and curbs on civil society

The chief of army staff, General Zia-ul-Haq, took over the government in a military coup on 5 July 1977 and remained president-cum-chief of army staff until his death in a plane crash on 17 August 1988. Many observers conclude that this period was the worst in terms of suppressing both political and civic activity. It was the first time that journalists were sentenced to physical abuse via lashes; newspapers were subjected to censorship; courts were manipulated and subjected to extreme pressures to secure judgments of the government’s liking; and religion was used to the maximum to suppress civil society. The latter was particularly true of human rights and women’s organizations. Laws were promulgated during this time which were highly discriminatory against women. Students’ unions were banned through martial law orders in 1984. Trade unions were also disallowed. Despite these extreme measures, civil society and political forces resisted the dictatorial onslaught. Since General Zia-ul-Haq claimed to implement the “Islamic system”, a number of political and civil society groups and individuals sided with him despite the outright repressive and unjust nature of his regime. Students’ organizations and office-bearers of outlawed students’ unions took to the streets and agitated against the ban on students’ unions, leading to arrests, police torture, expulsion from educational institutions and harassment by the administration. Despite the widespread suppression, certain segments of civil society were not only able to maintain their activism, but also managed to grow and become organized entities within their areas of work. Women’s organizations especially became very active during this period. The Women’s Action Forum was founded in 1981.8 The Aurat (meaning “woman” in Urdu) Publication and Information Service Foundation came into being in 1986.9 The Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre, which was formed in 1975,10 became more active during Zia-ul-Haq’s time. Another factor which boosted the activism of women’s rights organizations at this time was the beginning of serious funding by foreign donors for such organizations. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which is one of the most organized and serious civil society organizations (CSOs) of Pakistan, was founded in 198611 and received considerable foreign donor support. While Zia-ul-Haq’s era will be remembered for its harsh treatment of civil society, it also led to greater activism by civil society, which better organized and mobilized itself in the face of suppression.

Rise of sectarianism, transnational movements and militancy

Pakistan’s neighbouring Afghanistan had been under varying degrees of influence from its mighty northern neighbour, the then Soviet Union, but in December 1979 the Soviets directly intervened by sending some 100,000 of their regular armed forces and heavy military equipment to fight the insurgency that was gaining strength against the pro-Soviet communist regime of Afghanistan. This development deeply affected not only Afghanistan but the entire region, especially Pakistan. General Zia-ulHaq’s regime responded, with full and active support of the United States and other Western countries, not only by mobilizing Pakistani volunteers to wage jihad (holy war) against the “godless” Soviets but also actively encouraging and supporting international Islamist groups and individuals to mobilize volunteers from the entire Muslim world to fight against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Armed resistance training camps and indoctrination centres were established within Pakistan and later in the “liberated” territory of Afghanistan as a part of the mobilization against the Soviets. Huge sums of money, arms and ammunition were supplied, financed mostly by the American CIA but also by the oil-rich governments and private citizens of Arabian Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and many others. This jihadi activity coupled with General Zia-ul-Haq’s own Islamization policy in Pakistan and the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979 all combined to contribute to the rise and empowerment of several sectarian, transnational and militant organizations. The origins of many radical sectarian Sunni and anti-Shia organizations can be traced to these three developments, such as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (Army of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, formed in 1985), as can radical Shia and anti-Sunni organizations like Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (Army of Prophet Muhammad, formed 1994) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (Jhangvi’s Army, named after an extreme anti-Shia slain cleric called Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi hailing from the Pakistani city of Jhang, and formed in 1996). Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Prophet Muhammad’s Legal System), which openly repudiated democracy and the constitution of Pakistan, was formed in 1992 and its leader Sufi Muhammad led a group of volunteers to Afghanistan in 2002 to fight American and other Western troops. Transnational organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pious), which later changed its name to Jamat-ut-Dawa (Party for Propagation), both led by Professor Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, and Jaish-e-Muhammad (Muhammad’s Army) led by Maulana Masood Azhar have focused on fighting against Indian control of Kashmir and have carried out terrorist activities on Indian territory. Challenged by the Pakistan government, these organizations are believed to have attacked targets within Pakistan as well. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP – Movement of Religious Students Pakistan, formed in 2007) is primarily undertaking attacks against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, but lately Pakistani armed forces, security forces and civilians have been targeted by TTP after Pakistan disallowed its activities. The latest insurgency in the Swat and Malakand regions of Pakistan was carried out by a group affiliated with TTP but dedicated to the enforcement of its brand of Islamic laws in the area. All such groups share some common traits: their ideologies are deeply rooted in their interpretation of Islam, they repudiate democracy and constitutionalism and they believe in violent means. North-West Frontier Province (adjoining Afghanistan) and South Punjab are the areas where these groups are generally based and active. To say the least, the rise of these militant groups has further complicated the political atmosphere in Pakistan while the country was trying to evolve a genuinely democratic order.

Baloch nationalist movements and rise of militancy

Balochistan is the largest in terms of area, smallest in terms of population and the least developed of the four provinces of Pakistan. The province is rich in petroleum gas and minerals, but feels aggrieved by what many Balochs consider to be the exploitation of their resources by the federal government, especially the largest province, Punjab. Baloch protests took the form of violent nationalist guerrilla warfare several times in the past; this was quelled either by strong military action by the Pakistan government or through political negotiations, but the underlying sense of deprivation could never be completely addressed. Several groups have lately emerged in Balochistan which repudiate democracy and constitutionalism and have taken up arms in guerrilla activities for what they claim to be the protection of Baloch rights and interests. The Baloch Liberation Army is one such group and has claimed responsibility of several killings and subversive activities. Unlike the outfits in North-West Frontier Province and South Punjab, Baloch nationalist militants are not inspired by religious ideology and are apparently motivated by Baloch nationalism. The enhancement of violence in Balochistan has negatively impacted on the democratization of Pakistani society, as the role of the security apparatus naturally increased as a result of the intensifying insurgency.

General Pervez Musharraf’s military rule (1999–2007)

The fourth direct military takeover of the government happened on 12 October 1999, led by the chief of the army staff, General Pervez Musharraf. In its initial phase, when General Musharraf was seeking to consolidate his hold on power, the military government sought the cooperation of civil society to undertake what it termed its reform agenda. Some prominent CSOs and their leaders joined hands with General Musharraf’s government, at least partly in the hope of making some tangible contribution to a reformed society. Omar Asghar Khan, head of the Sungi (meaning “companion” in local dialect) Development Foundation was one such person who joined the government of General Pervez Musharraf as hand-picked minister for the environment. Shaheen Atiq ur Rehman, head of the Buniyad (meaning “foundation” in Urdu), which had been active in promoting literacy among the downtrodden, also joined the military-led government as a provincial minister. General Musharraf’s orientation towards civil society, despite heading a military government, was generally respectful to the freedom of the media and women’s rights. The regime did initiate a number of reforms, such as the introduction of a local government system, reserving a quota of 33 percent for women in local government institutions, reserving a nearly 17 percent quota for women in the national and provincial assemblies, lowering the voting age to 18 years, reserving a quota for non-Muslim minorities in the legislatures, and doing away with separate electorates for Muslims and non-Muslims, etc. The real test of the Musharraf government’s commitment to democracy came when it held a national referendum on the continuation of General Musharraf as the president of Pakistan. The referendum was a thoroughly rigged affair, and so was the general election of 2002. General Pervez Musharraf committed his greatest folly when he tried to fire the chief justice of Pakistan in March 2007, which provoked strong civil society reaction. The Supreme Court restored the deposed chief justice, but General Musharraf suspended the constitution on 3 November 2007 without any lawful authority, purely on the strength of his command of the army. He not only fired the chief justice again, but sacked around 60 other judges who refused to support his unconstitutional action. A historic civil society movement to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and restoration of democracy was born as a reaction to the outrageous and repeated violation of the constitution by General Pervez Musharraf.

The historic lawyers’ movement

As has been alluded to, lawyers are one of the best-organized and active segments of civil society in Pakistan. Their bar associations are organized at the national (Supreme Court Bar Association), provincial (High Court Bar Associations), district and city levels throughout the country. Their organizations, unlike many other CSOs in Pakistan, go through the democratic exercise of elections every year. These elections are keenly contested and their results accepted by all of the constituent members, in the true spirit of democracy. Lawyers have always been at the forefront of the struggle for the rule of law and democracy in Pakistan, but the movement for the independence of the judiciary and restoration of the judges deposed by the former military chief and president of Pakistan was historic on many counts. President-cum-chief of army staff General Pervez Musharraf was finding it increasingly hard to cope with the ever-increasing independence and judicial activism of the chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry. His patience finally ran out when he summoned the chief justice to his office on 9 March 2007 and demanded his resignation in the presence of a number of other senior uniformed officials. To the utter surprise of the general, Justice Chaudhry refused to oblige. It is not common in Pakistan that a government official, judge or politician stands up to an all-powerful general. Justice Chaudhry was suspended from his post and a hurriedly prepared reference was filed in the Supreme Court for his permanent removal. Not only that, but police were asked to intercept his car and stop him from going to the Supreme Court building on his way back from the general’s office. Two days later, when Justice Chaudhry tried to walk to the Supreme Court to appear in the case examining the reference against him, police manhandled him and his wife, and the judge was forcibly made to sit in a police car which took him to the Supreme Court. The act of standing up to a military dictator earned Justice Chaudhry the lasting love and respect of the people of Pakistan, and the general’s efforts to insult and manhandle the chief justice earned him the people’s wrath. A movement led by the lawyers was almost immediately born which condemned the action of General Musharraf and demanded the reinstatement of Justice Chaudhry. A full bench of the Supreme Court finally reinstated Justice Chaudhry on 20 July 2007. However, on 3 November 2007 General Musharraf struck back by partly suspending the constitution, unconstitutionally declaring a state of “emergency” which was de facto a martial law and sacking Justice Chaudhry. Musharraf’s action also resulted in the removal of around 60 other judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts who declined to take oath under a provisional constitutional order. While the nation was enraged, it was the lawyers who gave expression to the popular sentiment through a movement which was unprecedented in the history of not only Pakistan, but of the world. It is indeed one of the most impressive non-violent movements of the present time. Since 9 March 2007 about 80,000 Pakistani lawyers have been on the streets. Initially they completely boycotted the courts, but later this was converted to one-day-a-week boycott. The movement has exacted a heavy financial toll on the lawyers, and has involved significant sacrifices. Thousands of them have become bankrupt, unable sometimes to even pay for their children’s school fees. Many lawyers have had to sell their cars or family jewellery to make ends meet, as continuous protests and boycotts deprived them of their only means of livelihood. Lawyers have also been subjected to brutal police assaults in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and a number of other cities. Hundreds of them were arrested and packed off to far-flung prisons to exacerbate their agony. Thirty-four persons lost their lives and 130 were seriously injured when lawyers tried to hold a reception for the deposed chief justice in Karachi on 12 May 2007 (SATP, 2007a). On 17 July 2007 a suicide bomb attack in Islamabad at the location where the deposed chief justice was to address the lawyers a couple of hours later left 16 people dead and at least 63 injured, many of them lawyers (SATP, 2007b). Lawyers led a number of historic inter-city rallies with tens of thousands of participants. Lawyers also led a long march from the southernmost city to the national capital in the north, enthusiastically followed by tens of thousands of lawyers, political workers and ordinary people. The lawyers’ movement forced General Pervez Musharraf to relinquish his military position – the real source of his strength. The movement also led to the reversal of General Musharraf’s earlier position that he would not allow two popular political leaders – Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif – to return from exile before the election. It was mainly the pressure exerted by the lawyers’ movement which ultimately opened up political space for those political parties and their leaders who were considered a challenge for General Musharraf’s rule, and were often victimized on one pretext or another. Again, it was the lawyers’ movement which forced the government to reappoint most of the deposed judges. Above all, the movement has motivated a large number of disinterested citizens to be active in national affairs. Students who had become totally aloof from national affairs after the students’ unions were banned in 1984 suddenly became active and passionately took part in the movement for the restoration of the deposed judges. Voter turnout, which had been steadily declining for the last few elections in Pakistan, registered a significant increase in the 2008 election. This was despite the precarious security environment following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan and head of the largest political party in Pakistan – the Pakistan People’s Party. The revival of democracy in Pakistan following the generally free and fair election in February 2008 owes a great deal to the lawyers’ movement and the sacrifices made by the lawyers. The symbol of the independent judiciary in Pakistan, deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and many of his colleagues, were finally reinstated on 16 March 2009 by an executive order issued by the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari. The lawyers’ movement renewed people’s faith in democracy and their own country.

Civil society and the struggle for a stable democracy in Pakistan

Although the lawyers’ movement remains by far the most profound expression of pro-democracy sentiment of civil society in Pakistan, there are a number of other ways in which civil society is making a significant contribution towards deepening and strengthening democracy. Election observation is one of the roles which some CSOs have been playing on a limited scale in Pakistan. The general election of 2008 saw this role significantly enhanced, thanks to the new-found confidence by civil society in itself and also thanks to the foreign donors who supported the election and election process observation by civil society. CSOs are also undertaking many unconventional roles for strengthening democracy in Pakistan. A CSO pioneered orientation and briefing sessions for members of parliament and sustained these for over six years in the absence of such capacity within the parliament. Some CSOs have started monitoring the performance of the parliament and the provincial assemblies. Other organizations are engaged in spreading awareness about democracy among young students in schools. The Youth Parliament project has been initiated by a CSO to groom young people for more political roles, promote political consciousness among the youth and provide a platform for youth to articulate their views in a democratic but structured manner. Many CSOs have initiated legislative watch programmes to monitor legislative activity in the national parliament and provincial assemblies in the areas of their interest. Other CSOs produce parallel reports about the state of implementation of various international treaties and conventions adopted for the welfare of labour, women, children, etc. These roles performed by civil society are an indicator of the maturation and more direct and significant role of civil society in nurturing a sustainable democracy in the country. Following the general election on 18 February 2008, the form of democracy was restored; however, the substance may take longer to take root. Serious efforts need to be made by different segments of the society, including civil society, to usher in an era of stable democracy in a country which has seen four full-fledged military interventions and many more behind-the-scene efforts to control the civilian governments and their decision-making. The quality of democracy needs to be continuously monitored by civil society in order to provide the necessary checks and balances which are central to the spirit of democracy in a society. A vigilant and informed populace is probably the single most important factor in ensuring sustainable democracy in the country. Media, which are more free and vibrant today than ever before in the history of the country, have played a major role in building and sustaining the effectiveness and appeal of the lawyers’ movement. With over 150 daily newspapers and more than 50 non-government television channels, the media are destined to play a very important role in shaping events in the country. Many TV programmes consist of news and current affairs: Pakistan is one of the rare countries where current affairs programmes attract almost equal if not more viewers than entertainment-based programmes. Hosts and anchors of current affairs programmes have a huge fan following, and some are considered heroes for masterfully articulating public sentiments. Media need to strengthen their research base and improve the content of their current affairs coverage so that these may encourage informed discourse in society. Lawyers have assumed a popularly accepted leadership role in civil society, and this will continue to determine the quality of civil society contributions towards the strengthening of democracy. Lawyers have made great sacrifices, but they need to desist from extremist tendencies exhibited by some of their leaders in order to save the movement from sudden collapse due to a confrontation for which they have not prepared themselves well enough. In short, the quality of democracy in Pakistan in the coming years will depend a great deal on the quality of the contribution made by its civil society.

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I have seen many pictures where powerful people hand out cheques or articles like sewing machines to deserving people but the love, affection, empathy, and expression of solidarity that I see in @ShaziaAttaMarri ‘s face in this picture is amazing & unmatched. Great work!


هڪ چوڻي آهي ته اهو بهتر آهي ته ماڻهوءَ کي مڇي ڏيڻ جي بجاءِ مڇي مارڻ سکائي وڃي. 2

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