In Pakistan, protesting goes a cappella
As things get tougher for their president, Pakistanis use a catchy pop tune to express their anger.
LAHORE AND ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN
After the violent standoff at the Red Mosque in Islamabad concluded this week, the chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, took another road trip through Punjab Province, Pakistan's heartland. As always, it was like a raucous party thrown for a rock star.Skip to next paragraph
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Flags waving and fists in the air, thousands stretched along the road waiting to shower Mr. Chaudhry with rose petals or seek his autograph. And all the while, from car speakers, a familiar tune pounded the air and sent thousands of shoulders bopping:
"You're always running off to Washington/ Running off to butter up Bush/ Falling to his feet and groveling/ And turning around and threatening the weak/ Fight the real oppressor, why don't you?/ Uncle, lose the uniform, why don't you?/ Take your pension and leave, why don't you?"
Since Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf attempted to sack Chaudhry on March 9, the chief justice has emerged as something of a street hero for those who champion democracy. But if Chaudhry, with his dour expressions and reticent air, is the unlikely hero of a movement against Musharraf's military rule, he now has his own anthem.
"Chacha Wardi Laonda Kyon Nahee?" – "Uncle, Lose Your Uniform, Why Don't You" – follows Chaudhry whereever he goes across the country. It's a caustic, witty number evoking the battle Chaudhry and a mixed bag of opposition members – Islamists, lawyers, journalists, socialists, and nationalists – are now waging.
And on some level, the jingle is testament to Pakistan's pluck. In a country that has survived a civil war and seen four military dictators come and go, Pakistanis haven't lost their sense of humor this time around. Not that the worsening crisis isn't being taken seriously, but humor has become one of the most effective tools for expressing dissent in an atmosphere where the media is otherwise under fire.
"There's no law on ridiculing [the government] through cultural references," says Adnan Rehmat, country director of Internews Pakistan, a media watchdog group. "The government will come out more caricatured if they crack down on satire."
The eight-year rule of General Musharraf has never felt shakier. Ever since Chaudhry's dismissal, tensions have only escalated. The bloody confrontation last week between police forces and radical Islamic students in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, has underscored for many that Musharraf is unable to effectively manage the host of crises now engulfing him. How could the regime allow extremists to mobilize in the capital for months, before switching gears to all-out confrontation with them, many newspaper editorials have wondered aloud.
"It's a contemporary folk song," explains Aitzaz Ahsan, Chaudhry's chief lawyer in the ongoing Supreme Court trial challenging the chief justice's dismissal. "And contemporary folk songs, like country music, mirror the deep-felt feeling of the people."