May 12th 2007-17

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

May 12th   2017 is as good as come and gone. As I recall 2007—the year of CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry, for his persona was at once the catalyst and dynamic—that May 12th anniversary marker’s mood-content would be anachronistic today. Its villains and martyrs have squirmed and shifted, and are no longer held firmly within the mould of that year’s context.

Which also indicates its characters are operative: vital and politically relevant, not merely historical.  

ZAB, misted by time, is no longer controversial. All allow homage to the ‘democratic martyrdom’ for disputing his democratic credentials lacks current political value. Benazir was cut short in her prime before she could define herself, and so party glorification and exaggerations are let pass in cultural kindness: Both April 5th and December 27th are tragic, chastening anniversaries whose consequences and evaluations were worked out long ago. But the heroes and villains of May 12th –the day of singular carnage in Karachi—the blame for which in 2007 fell on the MQM and COAS-President Musharraf—are still being recast and reinvented: Both by themselves and others.

To begin with CJP Chaudhry. He had become a people’s hero well before May 12th for defying the naked face of power and imperiling himself by refusing to step down discreetly. Crowds started turning out to view this curiosity and fete him. His journey out of Islamabad turned into a spectacular popular endorsement. It did not take long for the bar to endorse the CJP’s valorous stand; and chauffeuring him was a privilege. They now call it the lawyers’ movement. Undoubtedly they helped to keep ‘it’ going but they did not ignite it. Iftikhar Chaudhry alone did. He made news and the media disseminated it. When Musharraf banned media coverage, the international outcry made him withdraw the ban.

On May 12th when CJP Chaudhry defiantly landed at Karachi airport he was not allowed to go beyond it; and the media and members of the legal fraternity were not allowed to get there. It took an ugly and bloody show of state power to stop them. Karachi was aghast as was the rest of the country and global observers. After that day’s events Musharraf had his back to the wall. The impact of the global solidarity of the Press and the legal fraternity is something that COAS-President Musharraf learnt the hard way.

Could former COAS-President Musharraf have weathered it best of all? Through a face-saving settlement with the politicians he had unremittingly excoriated and the facilitation of their return into the political mainstream; he salvaged his own position, and secured the dignity of staying in place till the formal end to his term in office(s). Elections 2008 were under his aegis; and Benazir’s widower opted for Presidential rather than Prime ministerial office; gaining if not quite COAS-President Musharraf-arian pragmatic exemptions at least presidential immunity.  The startup coupster-President then sat it out in villas and farmhouses, punctuated by lucrative lecture circuits and interviews where he pondered his own mistakes and others’.  His years passed pleasantly till he was able to form his own offshore political grouping. He diagnosed it as the need of the hour. The diagnosis may have been right, after all changing hours have changing needs. But he erred tactically when he returned home, expecting a hero’s welcome. It was not forthcoming. Tweets and twitter followers do not always match reality.

However, his state of health stands him in good stead in detention and hearings and he continues to make his exits and his entrances, though he is best seen on TV.

Possibly it is the MQM that had the most to contend with subsequent to May 12th 2007. It lost ground when perceived as too clearly in line with the General first; and then with Altaf Bhai’s political brand in the course of the LEA ops in Karachi. It was offered a new look if not a new face: Former Mayor Mustafa Kamal suddenly saw what he had not been able to see during long years in serving Altaf Bhai-watermark MQM. He may have had time to think things out when he, like others, was off the scene post-Musharraf. Till now he has attracted more luminaries than common voters.  An also-ran speculation that Musharraf would officially absorb the MQM vote-bank soon withered.  Sagaciously handled by Dr Farooq Sattar, the MQM, post Altaf’s televised call from London to public violence in and against our country, appears to be on the course to self-correction. Its electorate is far too literate to remain slave to cultism; though not so ingrate as to badmouth Altaf Hussain now that it is entirely politically safe to do so. Dissociation suffices. Altaf Hussain gave the deprived migrant constituency a political slot and it would be churlish to forget that. Just as it would be churlish to deny the Awami socialistic political awakening Bhutto brought, though he too let down that electorate. Could the MQM, far from being up for grabs once more by the establishment and powers that be, healthily rework itself? Or will the ‘deep state’ find spoilers?

To come back to the iconic figure that generated the lawyers’ movement. The lawyers tended to hmm-and-haw about the man who birthed their movement. They do not much care to recall how he was lauded by Harvard Law and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour (like Mandela no less). Post the CJP’s resumption of the powers of his inalienable office, they criticized (the public mind you didn’t) the suo motu path he trod on rather heavily. Lawyers do so enjoy quibbling. Now one often hears urgings on to suo motu mode from legal eagles and populist politicians who insist they ALONE represent ALL that merits representation. Not learning—or learning—from Musharraf, the retired once so popular CJP has set up his own political party. It too has its media minutes; though Musharraf is undoubtedly better copy. Perhaps the latter learnt more from failure than the CJP did from success?

What lessons did you and I learn from May 12th? Whatever they were I fear we have misapplied them.