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November 17, 2017

Sit-ins remain fruitless but make people’s lives miserable


November 17, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The sadistic pleasure that some political parties and religious groups take in making lives of people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi miserable by staging sit-ins has become boundless over the past a few years.

Intriguingly, this always happened during the tenures of civilian governments while no such adventure was undertaken in the last dictatorial rule. The perennial target has been democracy. Second important outcome of these protests is that no government, regardless of being extremely weak and cornered, never accepted any of the demands of these parties, and finally the agitators have to go home empty-ended.

The federal capital has become the much-loved spot for such elements to protest and blockade movements of Islamabadites, Rawalpindites and thousands of people, who come to these cities every day from the suburbs and other cities and towns in connection with their mundane affairs, official jobs or businesses.

Much tormented and tortured are always the school-going children and women. A predominant majority of the people keep condemning these parties and groups, but are unable to do anything more except looking to the government to act. If there are powerful citizens’ committees in place, their protest against such activities may be more effective and pronounced, forcing these entities to wrap up their occupation of essential points.

Every time such protest made the writ of the government a laughing stock and painted Pakistan black in the outside world. Every government was always absolutely helpless, handicapped and incapacitated to deal with such agitators. The only reason behind such restrained, timid policy is the effort not to do any bodily harm to the protesters, lseading to casualties. But sadly, the sponsors of these dramas constantly wanted dead bodies for their politics.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) learnt a highly bitter lesson in June 2014 when a dozen people were killed in clashes between police and activists of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) of Dr Tahirul Qadri in Model Town, Lahore. This is certainly a worst scar on the Punjab administration. In the following months and years, Qadri premised his entire politics on this tragic episode while he has hardly any other political issue to hammer to remain relevant and effective.

The incident haunts the ruling party so much so that some of its detractors keep talking or expressing their desire that the case will finally entangle its key leaders in the next couple of months to further debilitate the government especially the Sharif brothers. After this gory occurrence, the PML-N became exceedingly careful and aggressively avoided using force to break protests.

The D-Chowk, which is situated in the high security Red Zone and caters to abundant traffic going to and coming from key national institutions, is the favourite location of all the agitating entities so that the government business is totally choked. If the Jinnah Avenue is blocked, the main business centre, the Blue Area, comes to a standstill. Every protesting party wants to occupy this road on which the metro bus also passes.

Regardless of the party in power, every administration has remained helpless before a few hundreds or thousands of protesters, besieging the federal capital, suspending the normal life of the citizens.

In the past, after becoming sick and tired of unlawful barricading of Islamabad, the capital administration earmarked a space on the pattern of Hyde Park of London in the Fatima Jinnah Park for the protesting political parties and groups to undertake their activities there, but none of them was ever impressed and no such activity has ever been held there.

Later, the Islamabad authorities allocated the spacious Parade Ground for political activities including sit-ins, rallies and demonstrations. Some parties have held their public meetings at this place, but those who have a different agenda reject the site.

Every time the beleaguered people urged the government to move against the protesters to clear roads and the agenda-driven TV anchors taunted and jeered at the administration for not restoring the writ of the state. But hidden in their assertions has been their desire to create dire consequences for the government by resorting to use of force, resulting in casualties.

The same was the case when the Lal Masjid was captured for weeks during Pervez Musharraf’s era. When an operation was conducted leading to deaths, the regime came under tremendous pressure and attack from the same people, who had been asking it to do away with the seizure without loss of any time.

Before the ongoing sit-in at the Faizabad intersection by a religious group for over a week that has paralysed life in several parts of the capital and Rawalpindi, another protest of the same kind was organised at the Jinnah Avenue by a faction of the present protesters. After sometime, they had left the place, and as the negotiations with them became successful.

In 2013, Dr Tahirul Qadri of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PAT) organised a sit-in at the D-Chowk for some days. He received a devastating blow from the then Chief Justice, Iftikahr Muhammad Chaudhry, who threw away his petition for electoral reforms, challenging his locus standi for being a Canadian citizen, who can’t even contest an election in Pakistan for being a dual national.

Then came the disastrous and worst sit-ins of August 2014 organised by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and PAT. Any amount of illegalities and unconstitutionalities committed in any protest would be considered mean compared to what havoc was played in this agitation. The activists raided the capital and kept the D-Chowk occupied for 126 days, but at last they have to pack up empty-handed as none of their demands was accepted. But before wrapping up, they unprecedentedly abused and attacked top government leaders and national institutions and physically stormed key government buildings and beat police personnel. Everything was preserved by the eye of the TV cameras, but still Imran Khan says the four criminal cases instituted against him in connection with his unlawful actions are politically motivated.

Over the past a few decades, Islamabad has seen a number of political movements including long marches. The most famous marches and protests were sponsored by late Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, when they were in opposition, and religious groups. But they were not as violent as the one arranged by the PTI and PAT was.

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