The fall of Dhaka on December 16, 1971 had produced unfortunate ramifications for Pakistan in the form of the entire state apparatus collapsing. Ergo when ZAB thereupon took office of the chief marshal law administrator and the president of Pakistan on December 20, the system was fragile and was leaning on despotic and frail foundations.
In less than a month, in January 1972, a huge conspiracy transpired. The lower cadres of the Punjab police, instigated by right-wing parties, announced an indefinite strike against the government to press for a 100 percent increase in salaries at a time when the government was still picking up pieces.
Bhutto had appointed civilian governors in all provinces. Following the protest, the then governor of Punjab, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, called an immediate confab of the PPP’s Lahore members and city area presidents at the party secretariat in Lahore. He instructed party workers to manage traffic at intersections in place of the traffic cops who given up their responsibilities, and to sit in police stations in lieu of the police officers who had vacated their offices. He issued a notification and announced on the radio that those who didn’t take up their due positions within 24 hours will stand terminated. He further announced that vacancies would be announced and new personnel recruited and given the charge post-haste within 72 hours.
Remarkably, within 12 hours of the announcement, policemen who had even fled to their villages rushed back to their positions, baulking the bid to blackmail the government. This implies that the state ‘can’ act ‘if’ it wants to.
In the same province, 46 years later, another protest comes to light. The Punjab bureaucracy padlocks its offices over the arrest of a grade-19 officer and announces a pen-down strike. What is unusual about this protest is the government’s intransigent support for these oddballs.
There is a strange rumpus among the Punjab bureaucracy and government over the arrest of the Lahore Development Authority’s former director, Ahad Cheema, who was administratively not on an important position. A meeting was called by Punjab’s chief secretary, which was fairly attended by some 200 government officers, precipitating an administrative crisis. The civil bureaucracy was not alone to be up in arms though. A meeting of the Punjab cabinet was also summoned immediately after the arrest, wherein the chief minister is reported to have approved the jarring protest. Later, the provincial assembly passed a resolution to mount pressure on NAB.
Normally, when a government servant is arrested they are considered to be suspended and a caretaker is appointed immediately for the business to continue uninterrupted. But two days after Ahad Cheema’s arrest the honourable chief minister of Punjab gave the imprimatur of the former’s promotion from grade-19 to grade-20; the corruption case is still underway.
Civil servants are obligated to maintain the writ of the state, but in this case they were encouraged to come out to demand the release of an accused. It is important to note that Ahad Cheema has not denied the allegations levelled against him. But his arrest has been made a part of the PML-N’s ongoing ‘victimhood’ campaign.
The government’s hullabaloo over Ahad Cheema’s arrest negates Article 25 of the constitution which enshrines impartiality for all citizens, that they are entitled to equal protection and ‘equal punishments’ without any discrimination. Ahad Cheema being made an exception highlights malafide intentions of the government. Hence, Article 16 of the constitution, which gives citizens the right to assemble and protest, is also prima facie void ab initio.
Moreover, when protests have become part and parcel of politicians’ creed, an unlawful protest over an unlawful demand further strengthens the fulfilment of more cataclysmic demands of many other insurgents. The protests of the bureaucracy may have halted for the time being following the Supreme Court’s warning to restrain from indulging in any activity that could land them in trouble. Nevertheless, the chief minister’s were extremely unprecedented and problematic.
For a government alleged to have committed massive irregularities in its own housing scheme for the underprivileged, it is creating a stink with all its might and main, raising many questions which need to be answered and not go unnoticed.
What or ‘who’ does the investigation leads to is yet to be known. Whether Ahad Cheema is innocent or guilty is only for the investigating authorities to determine. But to make him an exception is unfair.
The writer is a researcher and political activist.