Feisal Naqvi

Till Yesterday

In Uncategorized on March 17, 2009 at 3:06 am

Pakistanis have historically been a famously fractured bunch. Till yesterday, the common wisdom was that we had nothing in common besides a fondness for cricket. Turns out that we also share a commitment to an independent judiciary. And that makes me proud

Till yesterday, the single greatest moment of my life as a Pakistani was the 1992 World Cup Final. I was attending law school in the US in those days, and after the match had finally finished at 7 am, I went and bhangra’d all the way down the hallways of my illustrious institution, much to the amusement of the sleepy first-years stumbling into Dean Calabresi’s tort class.

As I said, that was till yesterday. Today, my proudest moment as a Pakistani is the restoration of the Chief Justice.

To digress for a minute, the honest truth is that Pakistanis spend a lot of their time in a defensive crouch, either defending their country with anger or deflecting criticism with self-deprecatory humour. I moved back to Pakistan from New York in December 1996 and the one question people have never stopped asking me is, “Why?”

There are many answers to that question (my standard reply is, “jithay di khoti, uthay hi aan khaloti”) but the point is that the question never stops being asked. In the eyes of the world, Pakistan remains a quixotic choice, justifiable only on the basis of some illogical or emotional rationale.

What happened yesterday then was doubly redeeming. It was a moment of redemption for this country, a glorious moment of unity and hope, one whose memory will hopefully remain with us in the months and years ahead. And it was a moment of redemption at an intensely personal level because for once, one could turn around and say, look at these people, look at the mota in the snazzy gota-spangled Toyota Corolla, yes, that white car with the giant stuffed lion wearing dark shades and a lurid red pagri strapped to its roof. He’s a patriot, a well-meaning citizen who has dragged his very large desi ghee-fed ass out on to the street because he believes in a principle that you and I also believe in. You, me and him now all share something today that we didn’t a day before.

The original sin of this country has always been the fact that it has no common identity. Like Whitman, we contain multitudes. Those wildly disparate identities quite often do not make sense but they are all there, sometimes in the same person.

At 11 am this morning, I was in the back garden of the Lahore High Court watching a sweating mass of wukla dance with most unlawyerly abandon. One gentleman in black was supervising proceedings, standing on a bench with a large chhan-chhana in his hand. After having let the bhangra go on a for while, he led the lawyers first in cheering for the restored Chief Justice, and then in loud naaras of “Pakistan ka matlab kiya, La ilaha ill Allah!” Having shouted himself hoarse, he went back to leading the bhangra brigade, waggling his chhan-chhana ecstatically.

That one scene captures all the contradictions of this country. Lower middle-class petty bourgeois wage slaves have no business being revolutionaries. Third World citizens have no business demanding a return to constitutionalism. Rioting in the name of the rule of law is a trifle problematic. And dancing joyously while shouting religious slogans favoured by fundamentalist parties…well, that’s Pakistan. Go figure.

The events of yesterday did not resolve all the tensions within our body politic: we may well be but a suicide bomber away from returning to our usual chaos. We are however closer to being a nation because we are now closer to agreeing on at least one fundamental value that is, the rule of law.

That agreement of this one value has arisen because of a movement across classes and across regions. The first lawyers to get arrested came from Karachi. In Quetta, a plane full of passengers refused to board unless Ali Ahmed Kurd was allowed to fly to Islamabad. In Lahore, the first demonstrators to show up at the High Court were not lawyers but representatives of civil society, an utterly unexpected mix of upper-class professionals, whom one would ordinarily expect to see at gallery openings, sipping organic green tea and sharing gossip, rather than dodging lathis and chucking back tear gas shells with their bare hands.

Pakistanis have historically been a famously fractured bunch. Till yesterday, the common wisdom was that we had nothing in common besides a fondness for cricket. Turns out that we also share a commitment to an independent judiciary. And that makes me proud.

  1. i entirely agree with what u have written Feisal, i felt very proud that the general populace stood up to these bunch of crooks who rule us in this sham democracy

  2. […] of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was a proud event for many Pakistanis like the blogger at Monsoon Frog after a long time. Cancel this […]

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