Walking up to the dusty pathway to get to the canopy under which Jahangir Akhtar’s was sitting on the second day of his hunger strike, one has to wonder, whether or not the movement will actually amount to anything. As well intentioned as he may be, can one old man make a difference? Can, as Akhtar said today, we stop selling out our country to all parties, foreign and domestic?
Part of the answer to that came from Jawad, Akhtar’s son, “If the following of my father matches that of Anna Hazare only then can these [idealistic] goals be met.” He remind me of the role that the media played in highlighting Hazare’s strike and shared his disappointment with the low level of interest shown by the Urdu press.
After a few minutes of silence out of respect for the Azaan, Akhtar’s better known supporters began to talk of their hopes. Pakistan Awami Party President Fanoos Gujjar noted,” If you complain of American imperialism, this is your chance to peacefully show your resistance. From GHQ to the parliaments, to the President House and governors houses, our message will be heard.” He later reminded the nation’s elected leadership of who they should owe their loyalties to. “[PM] Gilani, [President] Zardari, we put you there, we can drag you out.”
There was a short interruption then, as Asim Sajjad, an academic and leader of the Workers Party of Pakistan, reminded people to show civic sense and not block traffic by parking in no parking areas, as the government has already given the common folk enough headaches.
Sajjad, an MIT graduate, spoke on the promotion of militarism by the state education system, state-run media and right-wing media and mouthpieces. “We are taught to fear India in schools and by the state media so that we will not question military spending and demand social services. But it is not India threatening Pakistan. It is hunger, poverty and depravation. We must spend on social services or we will be left beating the same drum.”
The point against partisan speech reminded people of the shameful extent of our own leadership’s own partisan politics, which, according to a policeman, is “intended to make them look effective while the state continues to teeter on the edge of an abyss.”
With a story in hand, I got up to leave, when I noticed a man in a wheelchair approaching. I recognised him, and I still remember the events that put him in that chair. It was Dr Israr Shah, a former PPP member, beaten in the elections for one of Islamabad’s MNA seats by the corruption-scandal-plagued-runaway MP Anjum Aqeel. He is a double amputee today because he actively supported the judicial movement. His reward, in his own words, was “being sacked from the party’s Central Executive Committee for speaking against corruption within the party”.
Dr Israr spoke only for a few minutes, but in that time he moved everyone present. After expressing his support for Akhtar’s cause, he addressed the silent majority, “Losing my legs does not make me helpless. Losing my conscience does. Unfortunately, those without it can never regain it.”
He closed with a stinging message, “To my disabled brethren, governance needs no legs. Governance needs heart and integrity, both of which are sadly lacking.”
Earlier, Enver Baig, a former PPP Senator and senior leader who left the ruling party after baseless accusations of working against party interests, came to show his support. As Akhtar’s son reminded me that the only reason Akhtar was not at the deadly bombing that took Dr Israr’s legs was that he was a ‘guest’ of the police at the time, the trend of once-senior PPP leaders showing up reflected the fractures within the ruling party.
The last speech I heard was Jahangir Akhtar’s, as he addressed the crowd again, reminding them that he “respects parliament because it is by the people. If people are angry with it today, they must acknowledge the mistake they made on Election Day and work to fix it the right way: by demanding parliament to correct itself. Until parliament accepts we are right, we must continue.”
Addressing the people of Pakistan, he said, “I risk my life, all I ask is your time. We restored the Chief Justice, we will fix the country.” He closed with a message to the army, “I understand the pressure on the army to maintain the status quo, but if you do not listen to the people, you will wander aimlessly like a Russian Cossack, looking for help and finding none.”
Earlier, a doctor checked him up and said his health is holding up well, considering that he is a heart patient.
Labour Party Pakistan (LPP)’s Advocate Nisar Shah, National Students’ Federation leader Aliya Amirali, Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Payaam Trust’s Basit Subhani also spoke.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2011.