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Pakistan: Statement released by Women’s Action Forum, Karachi on Dharna Democracy

Sunday 31 August 2014, by siawi3


29 August 2014

WAF’s Position on Dharna Democracy

WAF reminds the dharna democrats that democracy is a long term, incremental process, and not the result of a particular election. Street Spectacles while legitimate for protesting grievances can never be a substitute for Parliamentary representation with its built-in self-correctives. The many Islamist militant and sectarian groups in Pakistan are evidence of the difference between street power and parliamentary representation and the worth of both.

WAF notes that the very parliament and judiciary that the dharna democrats are condemning today are ironically, the only protectors of the rights that they are demanding. In fact, it is ‘tabdeeli’ midwifed in a building in Aabpara (that both dharnas have not targeted) that has been the biggest obstacle in our democratic history.

Despite a history where institutions and parties have collaborated with military dictators in the past, WAF recalls that they have also been victimised and martyred by the establishment. The people of Pakistan have struggled to piece together a pathway to democracy through four dictatorships and four wars and repression of the MRD. We are beneficiaries of multiple people’s movements that took place within provinces, at a national scale and within the region.

Recently, we ousted a military dictator; devolved power to provinces; moved ahead on military accountability to civilians; regained freedoms of expression and media; removed inimical laws like 58 2B and; passed laws that protect women against violence, just to name a few. Behind each development lies a history of movements, imprisonments, sufferings and sacrifice. Sadly, by abusing these historical contributions and its leaders, these dharna democrats seem to be wrongly convinced that they are the first for democracy, of democracy or by democracy.

To deepen democracy and make it substantive requires strengthening the democratic process, not uprooting it and inviting in boot clad ‘umpires’. With rights come responsibilities. Hate speeches, threats of humiliation, disinformation campaigns, inane calls for civil disobedience, inviting ‘third force intervention’ and minus one formulas are not responsible proposals.

WAF and civil society groups have been working for electoral reforms at national levels but even more critically for restoration of local body governments. WAF welcomes new and emerging political forces that work with citizens, especially those on the margins of the state’s consciousness: minorities; women; poor workers and farmers.

We urge these concerned Pakistanis at the dharnas to look beyond cult leadership and concert politics and join the real, dirty, boring, gritty, unromantic, tiring, unending, thankless, small revolutions that await in every galli mohalla. We urge attention towards the IDPs; victims of terrorism; rape survivors; peasants resisting land takeover by the armed forces; cultural sites targeted by militants. WAF calls your attention to activism against those who obstruct polio vaccinations and who do not provide for mal-nutritioned children.

We remind the new democrats that there were none of your shows of solidarity at the dharnas of unpaid women health workers; the long march of the Baloch justice seekers; the protests by workers over inhumane conditions in capitalist factories.

Take it from WAF – a non-funded, street-politiking, leaderless community of pro-democracy activists – that, accusing others of being corrupt, imperialists, pro-war liberals, pro-India, pro-US and anti-Islam is a sign that you are losing the battle of ideas and therefore the resort to inflammatory name-calling.

WAF is impressed at the mobilization of people, more specifically, of women who have been on the frontlines of the dharnas and have broken taboos to claim celebratory space in public. Because otherwise, occupation of public space is something women are routinely denied and mobility of women of all classes is severely restricted, in the name of tradition and fear of conservative backlash. That politically disengaged citizens now want to engage in mainstream politics is a welcome sign. But political consciousness must necessarily include critical thinking, understanding of past and contemporary history as well as, some assessment of context.

WAF believes the civilian-military imbalance and progressive/militant divide are the fundamental fault lines undermining Pakistan’s progress. The dharna democrats are further playing along these divides by using knee jerk diagnosis which finds everyone except themselves to be sellouts or foreign agents. WAF maintains that a secular democracy and not conservative, nationalist, theocratic political path remains the way forward.

Reflect please, on why the leaders of the Lawyers’ Movement and pro-democracy civil society activists are opposed to the dharna demands and position. Try to understand why the rest of the country is referring to this as Punjabolitics or the battle for Takht-e-Lahore. Maybe through such realisation we can forge a truly national and respectable agenda to strengthen democracy for the people’s cause and not make it a cause for just some people.

(Statement released by Women’s Action Forum, Karachi.)