Cost of politically expedient procrastination
A red nose for the government
The country was in lockdown. Roads jammed, shops closed in many areas, schools announced closed for two days, in Islamabad crackdown one policeman was martyred and 37 reportedly injured in clashes. Different key areas in different parts of Pakistan have been hit by protestors resulting in blockades.
In early October 2017, government literally bulldozed the Amended Elections Bill 2017 allowing a disqualified prime minister to head a political party thereby making an irrelevant person relevant again in spite of strong protest by opposition parliamentarians.
On heels of this followed the change in the new Election Act 2017. The Muslim contestants of seats for Senate and National and Provincial Assembly required to categorically declaring their faith and finality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in words, “I solemnly swear” was changed to, “I believe.” An unnecessary controversy was immediately created offering no practical benefit to anyone by making this change. Also two clauses of Conduct of General Elections Order 2002 dealing basically with the mechanism of ascertaining religion of a prospective candidate and status of minority were repealed under the new Act. The government’s clarification that the change was a result of clerical error (already been rectified through an Act of Parliament) has been drowned in the uproar of the reaction.
A situation of anarchy had been unleashed upon the people of Pakistan as a result. The situation and its subsequent development raise many questions:
First, what were the need and the purpose at this point of making this amendment? It is a known fact that al Qaeda is regrouping after Daesh is weakened. ‘The resurgence has been managed by a South Asian offshoot called al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (Aqis), created by al Qaeda’s top leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri, in 2014 in order to slow advances by rival Daesh militants in the region.’ (Pakistan Today June 4, 2016). Reportedly, Aqis is finding traction in southern Pakistan.
The 20 or more days awarded to the protestors in the Faizabad sit-in allowed them time to dig in their heels. Those who are out there protesting believe a grievous religious injustice has been done
Second, why did not the government stop the procession once it set out from Lahore to Faizabad?
Third, the 20 or more days awarded to the protestors in the Faizabad sit-in allowed them time to dig in their heels. Those who are out there protesting believe a grievous religious injustice has been done. Those at the top may have other reasons, those following do not. They insisted on resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid in the controversy – though there is nothing yet to prove that he originated the amendment.
Fourth, when eventually the operation against the protestors has come, it is clear as day that the civil administration was ill prepared or halfhearted in efforts to disperse the protesters. On a shift approximately 3,000 to 7,000 personnel are deployed, yet have been unable to disperse the protesters? Whereas, simultaneously with the operations, protests broke out in leading cities of the country including Karachi, Faisalabad and Lahore by well-organised protestors virtually bringing life in the area to stand still.
The protestors had a Plan-A and a Plan-B. The government barring a botched up operation had none.
All news channels were off air. Face book and Twitter had been closed down. As a result of such a vacuum, rumours of all shade and nuances are furiously flying around. One writes that Prime Minister Shahid wants to walk, another states its funded chaos pointing a finger towards the alleged funder, another note states Faizabad will lead to a change in political landscape of the country bringing the government down backfiring. The situation was fluid inviting all kinds of speculative opinions. It would have been a better option for PEMRA to stop all footage live or otherwise of sit down, but let the news channels run otherwise, to put a lid on these rumors. Fortunately, the COAS stepped in, reportedly, to have the channels reopened understanding the negative cascading impact of the step.
However, one thing is a fact: the complete failure of the government to establish the writ of the state. Not only is this scenario a political issue, it also a security and economic implications. Not only has public property been destroyed, houses of Chaudhry Nisar been attacked (poetic timing) and Zahid Hamid’s (though the latter was to be expected). Had there been a minister or so from PML-N killed in this volatile scenario, (God forbid) it would have given PML-N what it has lacked so far: political martyrs. Fortunately, the situation has been handled by the army via negotiations.
In an agreement between Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah and the government of Pakistan dated 27th November states that Zahid Hamid is to be removed as law minister immediately, committee organised under Raja Zafar Ul Haq will file report in 30 days and those responsible will face legal implications, all protestors arrested from 6th November onward will be set free within three days of legal procedure and all cases against them be quashed, an inquiry board to be formed on action of 25th November inquiry deadline 30 days in which those responsible in administration and/or government will be pin-pointed and action taken against them, Any damage to property on 6th November till end of sit in will be determined and paid for by provincial government, all points determined will be followed in letter and spirit. It states also agreement was brought about by COAS Bajwa and his representative team. The name of Major General Faiz Hameed as coordinator appears at the bottom of the agreement.
End Note: COAS had categorically stated the army will not fire upon their own people. This orchestrated scenario ended in establishing the following: a) The government is and will remain intact, it would have been a bad precedent for the government to fall on behest of a few thousand b) The army played smart and resolved the situation with astuteness walking away squeaking clean refusing to walk on to a land mine and c) The government ended up with a bloody nose unquestionably responsible for yet again mishandling a potentially dangerous situation with incompetency.