FIR against 3 LUMS Faculty members and 2 students

Academics for Freedom condemns in the strongest terms the FIR on false charges registered against 3 faculty members of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and 2 students, including the president of the Student Council. The faculty members include:
1) Osama Siddique (Law faculty)
2) Rasul Buksh Rais (Social Sciences faculty)
3) Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (Social Sciences faculty)
The students include:
1) Saad Hassan Latif
2) Umar Malik
The charge leveled against them in the FIR is that of wall-chalking the Defence Police Station. Academics for Freedom recognises that these extremely frivolous charges are simply an attempt to harrass and intimidate members of the LUMS community.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Modifying the Genetic Makeup of Our Collective History

The genes of our political discourse have up till now been as formidable and constant as those that determine the hue of our eyes or the inflection of our speech. Two chromosomes have paired up unimaginatively to interject our Constitutional order every few years: one which is imprinted with the idea that our political nascence and supposed lack of able political leadership render us ill-equipped for a democratic system bedrocked upon Constitutionalism and an independent judiciary; and the other which impresses upon us the exigencies of short-term gains and temporary stability at the expense of evolving democratic political processes. The result has been an alternating cycle of civilian and military rule, with the latter almost always characterized by a purge of independent constituents in the judiciary, suspension of our natural, political and legal freedoms, and silencing of any expressions of dissent in the name of national interest.

Why have we been so accepting of authoritarian rule? Has our history not taught us any lessons? Can we ever stop assuming that dictators can be benign, moderate, and latent democrats? Is the predilection for dictatorial rule so deeply transcribed in our collective history that every time we see a military ruler pretending to be the Keeper of our Conscience we are persuaded to give him yet another opportunity to mutilate our Constitutional values? And most importantly, why has our public discourse at times of martial law impositions emphasized “the need of the day” without any consideration for Constitutional imperatives? It appears that we have allowed a pernicious form of apathy to seep into our collective political history. As Bertrand Russell said, it is much easier for people to remain apathetic like “the beasts of the field,” until an internal ambition drives them out of their passive roles and fatalistic thinking.

When Musharraf seized power through a military coup for the first time in October 1999, the BBC “Have Your Say” program captured and relayed the voices of hundreds of people in Pakistan as well as from the Pakistani Diaspora all around the world. Amidst the din, a typical utterance that made the rounds was as follows:

“It is an irony that Pakistan has always fallen back under army rule because of a chronic shortage of leaders that may have been democratically elected but are absolutely short of the democratic sense that is needed to run the affairs of any place. Ms. Benazir is no exception to this. I am quite skeptical about the alternatives we have. Under this situation who knows, may be military rule might be better.”

Many people continue to cling to this cynical we-have-no-choice viewpoint to justify their personal non-involvement and political impotence. But positive signs of a discourse that is politically sensitized against authoritarian rule are emergent amongst many sections of the civil society in Pakistan today. Only days into Musharraf’s second imposition in 8 years of martial law (or emergency for those in denial), we have already embarked upon the process of shifting the nature of our political discourse from apathetic acceptance of and blind support for tinpot, self-serving despots to active and constructive criticism of unconstitutional rule. Activists, lawyers, journalists, students and other civil society members have – in an unprecedented fashion – raised a unified voice against yet another attempt to take the Constitution and judiciary hostage. But this voice does not singularly revolve around the denunciation of Musharraf; it goes beyond personality-centered disapproval into the realm of an ideology that stands for democratic rule legitimized through Constitutional values. The message that has been reverberating from within Pakistani civil society for the past 20 days or so is loud and clear:

“We will not accept autocratic rule or a suspension of our Constitutional rights anymore. Our Constitutional values are paramount, and we recognize that non-representative rule can never be compatible with constitutionalism. We want to think about political solutions in line with Constitutional mandates. We want a strong, independent judiciary. And most of all we need a long-term political vision, not short-cut solutions. Our choice is between helplessly clinging to short-term imperatives in the name of “necessities” created by autocrats, or upholding our Constitutional supremacy and democratic values for long-term stability. We overwhelmingly choose the latter.”

We see the beginnings of Constitutional traits taking over apathy and fatalism in our collective present. Whether this process of natural selection will reach a stage of fruition and whether we will be able to entrench democratic solutions depend on whether we will continue to inform ourselves concerning the functioning of our politico-legal system and to remain personally involved in the upholding of our Constitutional liberties. By bringing us to a historical T-junction, Musharraf may yet be the best thing that has happened to Pakistan. The direction we must take is obvious. As the burgeoning political conscience of our civil society has demonstrated, it is time to splice away the old genes of our collective history.

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