Risky Jitters

*Originally published in The Nation.

The Azadi March is all set to commence with PTI’s supporters all geared up to bring down what they believe to be the illegitimate PML-N badshahat. Equally charged are the supporters of Canadian national Tahir-ul-Qadri to bring an inquilab.

Both of these campaigns have one thing in common, and that is the departure of the current regime which has just entered the second year of its five-year term.

Analyses have been pouring in from all quarters of the country anticipating the results of the marches.

It really is, as Ali Aftab Saeed wrote in Dawn recently, that amidst plenty of speculation, none of us are sure whether the government will crumble or survive.

However, the March alone will not define the result.

It will be the interaction between the government and the protesters that will determine what the protests yield.

Numerous areas in Lahore have been blocked by containers, barricades and barbed wires while news of PTI and PAT workers’ has also spread. 400 containers have been installed to cordon off the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Fuel supplies have been suspended. Article 245 has been invoked, and now Section 144 has also been imposed in the capital city, while leaves of the Islamabad Police have been cancelled. The suspension of mobile services is also under consideration.

These have been causes of extreme inconvenience to citizens.

But more alarmingly, the PML-N is once again demonstrating its disappointing tendency to panic and jitter, a characteristic the people would like to discount from a party in its third stint in power; which inevitably has the effect of creating and self-starting crises. What the government, despite being given a democratic mandate to rule, is also demonstrating through such decisions is a posture of intimidation and weakness.

The right of protest is one of the most important constitutional rights; it is one of the many mechanisms within a democracy that checks the government in instances of deviation.  Asha’ar Rehman is right to point out that, and the quote follows: ultimately, the essence of a protest is how sensibly and responsibly it is reacted to by those it is aimed at.

 The flurry of decisions taken by the government is not only reflective of its characteristic edginess but also holds potential for prompting an explosive situation as impediments to the protest; a disquieting  development that will give way to chaos by way of exacerbation of the conflict.

As Ayaz Amir mentions in his recent piece in The News:

‘The PML-N’s fate depends not on the constitution or its mandate.  Its fate depends wholly and solely on the Punjab police and the Islamabad police. If there is even a hint of disorder, the first signs of chaos on the roads in and around Islamabad…that will be the time for the strategic phone call or even something more.’

The PML-N government needs to abandon its current bearing of edginess that is directing its unmeasured response to the scheduled protests and March; and adopt a cautious and sensible approach to the unfolding events.

Rameeza Nizami’s solid piece of advice to the government in her recent editorial must ring louder than ever at this point:

‘To affirm the public’s faith in the democratic process, the government would do well to accommodate protesters rather than creating hurdles. Give them water if they’re thirsty. Provide them shade if they need it. Act like the democratic government worthy of being saved.’

Crackdowns and blockades shall only enrage the spark that threatens to inflame the government, and the future of democracy in Pakistan. The only path out and forward is political engagement, which the government must spearhead by shedding its lassitude and dangerous edginess.

The ominous uncertainty looming over Pakistan right now can only be dispelled if better sense and sensibility prevails on all sides, and eclipses Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s extreme demands and obstinacy; and the government’s jitters and delayed political engagement.

Otherwise, all shall be lost.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

6 comments on “Risky Jitters

  1. dogrask says:

    There is hardly anything in the article one could disagree with. The type of crisis Pakistan is facing today creates for all right-thinking people in a country the opportunity to strengthen the foundations of democracy. If the seeming chaos is to be prevented from tilting towards anarchy and the nation is to emerge out stronger and more cohesive, the right-thinking persons must speak up. Silence in such a situation amounts to connivance with the Forces of Destruction. Nice to see youngsters like you using the social media to put out their drop of opinion to build up an ocean of sense and sensibility. As an Indian who tries to ensure that he does not lose grip over rationality, I wish your efforts success!

    • Thank you for sparing the time to read!
      However, the political scene and discourse has become so starkly polarised right now; speaking up on any aspect of the developments is often an invitation to heated arguments and misunderstandings. The political heat’s gotten to everyone’s heads.
      Those are some wonderful words, I hope these drops do count for something.
      And I convey a heartfelt thank you again from this side of the border!

      • dogrask says:

        “speaking up on any aspect of the developments is often an invitation to heated arguments and misunderstandings.”

        You are right. As a person who is much older in age and has passed through varied experiences, I can feel your sincerity as well as your concern. Let me give you small pieces of advice:

        1. You should have faith that good actions always produce good results. So, do good wherever you can. In a sense, for me to be interacting with a person whose basic goodness of heart I can feel, is itself an opportunity for me to do a good deed by saying things that might encourage you when you feel despondent. All of us get such opportunities to do good at every juncture of life, but we often don’t recognise them as opportunities.
        2. Never waste time on wasteful arguments. When you find that your interlocutor appears to be incapable of understanding, leave the discussion and focus on your intellectual growth.
        3. If you look back at history, you will find that there have been wrongs committed in different times by different people and yet the world has progressed. So, pay attention to the broader arch of progress and ignore the smaller kinks in if, if you cannot straighten them.
        6. In your enthusiasm to do good, don’t take risks that might cause permanent damage to you physically, morally, financially and socially. If you make your own safety a priority, you will get other opportunities to do good in the times to come.
        5. Finally, have faith in God and in yourself.

        If you wish, you can be in touch with me on my email ID dogratamil@gmail.com

  2. Rehan says:

    Panic is something that gives strength to a mob. If such protests are not opposed, they generally fizzle out and lose their “steam” . Put up resistance to them only makes the “revolutionaries” look like heroes. The best way is to ignore them and let them know how pointless and insignificant their move is.

  3. dogrask says:

    From the latest turn of events one gets the impression that democracy is taking root in Pakistan. The way the army, the judiciary and other institutions have played their role and the type of restraint the police have shown during the past couple of days all bode well for democracy in Pakistan. And this is good news for us Indians, because a healthy, democratic Pakistan is a greater guarantee for peace and prosperity in South Asia than a militarised Pakistan. I think Imran’s and Qadri’s failure to rouse masses into a mob frenzy has in fact brought true ‘azaadi’ to Pakistan. I wish all Pakistani brethren well on this dawn in their history!

  4. rehanud1975 says:

    The jitters have turned into seizures now which have gripped the entire nation. The utter obstinacy of PTI , PAT and Government has really escalated the tension . Each day brings yet another false promise , another deadline and another threat . Army would eventually have to step in and then we would have the usual ‘dictatorship derails democracy’ crap all over our media.

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