Disruptive protests and state violence mar troubled efforts towards change
In the latest battle for a new and improved Pakistan, Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri of the opposition parties have set up their camps and stages near the Parliament and Prime Minister’s House in the capital’s “Red Zone”. Their demand: the current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, must resign.
Each party has its own set of grievances and agenda for the protests. Qadri, leader of Pakistan Awami Tehrik’s (PAT), is out to seek retribution for the deaths of over a dozen members of his party during what is known as Lahore’s Model Town Massacre in June. Holding the Pakistan Muslim League-Noon (PML-N) responsible, Qadri is demanding Sharif be tried in a court of law. Similarly, Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), is retaliating against the current leadership in response to unfair elections in the 2013 polls, claiming the votes and ballots were massively rigged in favour of PML-N. As a desperate man’s last call for change, Khan resorted to an azadi (freedom) march and dharna (sit-in) after unsuccessfully reaching out to the Parliament and Supreme Court on multiple occasions.
A Sit-In Like No Other
Ironically, their rallies outside the Parliament are doing more harm than good. Prior to their arrival in Islamabad, a sense of panic and fear was created as gas stations announced closures in anticipation. Endless lines were generated at every gas station in town with everyone was filling up tanks not knowing when they would get the opportunity to do so again. Ultimately, all supplies were finished at these stations leaving some to turn back empty-handed.
For weeks now, containers filled with sand have been set up at different entry points between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, blocking entry and exit. In the early days, attendance at offices had been low since residents were restricted by blocked city roads. Also, schools and universities were closed for security reasons and continue to remain so; potentially holding back those wanting to apply for further studies.
Supply of essentials to the city has remained disrupted generating a massive hike in prices. Economic activity was suspended for days; markets were empty. The stock exchange took a major downward plunge on a daily basis with losses in the millions.
With the end nowhere in sight, the Red Zone had become a source of entertainment to residents of the twin cities. People from nearby cities joined in with full gusto. In the daytime the supporters are getting their work done so they can enjoy musical performances while food and drinks are sold at street stalls. This defies the whole point of the cause rendering it counterproductive.
So why has the situation gone this far with no intervention? The armed forces are all geared up and ready but reluctant to use force; especially since majority of the supporters are woman and children. The army prefers not to intervene and leave the use of force as a last resort given the frequency of coup d’états throughout the nation’s history and its undesirability to the masses. Moreover, it poses a serious risk to the current ruling party and increases the chances of protestors calling for new elections and the political drama that follows. It seems Sharif’s strategy is to hide behind the military’s apprehension to intervene and the nation’s reluctance to accept such intervention.
Table Talks and Political Drama
Let us for a moment entertain the idea that Sharif hands in his resignation. Once he gives up his position, the currently friendly team of Khan and Qadri will not be so friendly. In the quest for power, they will ultimately become opponents, leaving the masses to suffer the consequence once again. No matter the crime of PML-N, at this point sit-ins and political deadlocks are not solutions.
All demands within the realm of the law have been accepted, however officials have stated that unconstitutional demands such as the forced resignation of the current ruling government will not be entertained. According to the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, the government has exercised maximum restraint forming negotiation teams to persuade the leaders to peacefully end the protests.
In the latest round of talks, Sharif had reluctantly requested the army to intervene and take matters into their hands even if it means setting martial law. All parties involved were called in for talks and reconciliation was falling into place. However, Sharif dug his own grave when later in Parliament claimed that he was never in favour of bringing in the armed forces, rather it was Khan and Qadri’s idea. Upsetting both PAT and PTI leaders over more “lies and deceit” and furthering the nation’s ever growing frustration, any chances of resolution was slowly shaping into a distant vision.
Police Force Intervention
Sharif’s political career has sunk deeper in its grave following the latest turn of events which saw the use of violence against protestors. As the protestors were drawing closer to the Prime Ministerial House on the night of Saturday August 30, police forces were ordered to use tear gas and rubber bullets to stop protestors from progressing. Violence continued throughout the better part of Sunday with women and children also falling victim.
14 deaths and approximately 300 injuries were reported. Several medical personnel across hospitals in Islamabad proclaimed the use of live bullets which were removed from some of the victims, explaining that rubber bullets cannot penetrate the body whereas live bullet will cause entry and exit wounds. Doctors were asked by the government not to give out information pertaining to the wounded especially body counts. It was also reported that the police were hiding the wounded protesters behind containers to reflect the figures to their own advantage.
Furthermore, it has been speculated that other chemical substances were mixed in the tear gas which caused asphyxiation. According to the Statute of International Criminal Court, the use of any poisonous substance or gas is considered a war crime.
Earlier this week, some of the protesters broke into and took over the state owned Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) and ransacked the place, temporarily disrupting its telecast. The armed forces were called in to intervene and gave the protestors ten minutes to evacuate before force was used. Within seven minutes the protestors peacefully left the building upon which PAT and PTI leaders publically announced this was in no way endorsed by them and it could not have been their activists as anyone who acts against the constitution and damages public property is not one of them.
The country’s political deadlock has now become more resolute than ever. Qadri, and Khan are seeking a total revamp of the country’s electoral system and governance. They have been giving electrifying speeches ridiculing the current system for large scale corruption, nepotism, and amplifying social and income disparity. They are committed until Nawaz Sharif resigns and takes immediate steps for a free and fair election.
A joint session of the parliament was initiated on Tuesday and continued through the week to discuss the latest political situation. With each party leader firmly standing by their beliefs and the nation glued to their television sets, only time will reveal the verdict that will bring this all to an end.
Image from: http://www.dawn.com/news/1123876
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