Arab Spring inspired dharna culture

11

By Amjad Ali Siyal
Protests per se cannot be dubbed unlawful as permissible under Article 15. freedom of movement; 16. freedom of assembly; and 17. freedom of association of the Constitution of Pakistan. Nevertheless, resorting to ill-advised route to bring the system to a standstill and pressurise the government of the day to budge on the illegal demands is unwarranted and deserves condemnation. In addition, it is necessary that legislative framework be devised for the regulation of protests within the ambit of law so that normal routine is free from any disruption.
As the annals of history tell us, it was the fateful time of late 2010 when having been frustrated at the humiliating treatment meted out towards Mohamed Bouazizi by the municipal officials, he set himself on fire. This event stirred uproar amongst the Tunisians resultant protests forced President Ben Ali to resign and flee the country. These protests, with spillover effect, inspired the people of the neighboring north African and Middle Eastern Arab states to break the shackles of fear and overthrow the monarchs. In Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh after being injured in a bomb blast fled Yemen and ceded power to Mansoor Hadi. In Libya, Gaddafi was killed by the western-backed National Transitional Council fighters. Syria remained in the grip of civil war till date. Mubarak was forced to resign by the protesters. That tipping point left thousands of people dead while others were rendered homeless.
Tahrir Square in Cairo became a symbol of resistance against the dictatorial tendencies. Egyptians were so disciplined and determined that Mubarak was forced to resign. Having been inspired from Cairo’s Tehrir Square and Istanbul’s Taksim Square, Democracy Chowk in Islamabad’s red zone got the synonyms status. It has become an all-time favorite spot of those who want to register their grievances against the government giving the impression it is the only place which makes the protests noticeable before the powers-that-be.
Reminiscent of the Tahrir Square, Imran Khan embarked on the perilous expedition to topple the PML-N government back in 2014 with the help of street power. He continued his protest for about four months at the D-Chowk. This set the tradition which Allama Tahir ul Qadri and TLP, and now JUI-F-led opposition followed suit. As you sow, so shall you reap. Now Imran Khan has to grapple with a serious internal challenge so far. If Moulana Fazal Rehman protest is not handled with care, it may cause damage of disproportionate magnitude to the country’s democratic dispensation and the faltering economy.
Prime Minster Imran Khan has realised that his recalcitrant attitude for not engaging the opposition parties is misplaced. The government should be mindful that it has a razor-thin majority in the parliament and in case it wants to translate its manifesto into reality, they must engage the opposition in the parliament and jointly work on pressing issues such as challenges on the eastern front, stagnant economy, unbridled debts and liabilities and accruing interest, inflation, etc. It is necessary to show restraint in order to prevent any catastrophic damage.

Unfortunately, whoever marched to the capital, they did it to create political relevance for themselves at the expense of public issues. So far, we have not witnessed any long march or million march which has been spearheaded for putting the economy on track, keep a check on inflation, police reforms, meritocracy, environmental issues, enhancement of public service delivery, transportation issues, poor education standards, water issues, health reforms, timely adjudication of pending cases etc. Afterall, whoever tastes or closely observes power, it is indigestible to remain deprived of it. If the march cannot bring power to the leaders, it can at least make one more important and relevant at the political landscape.
Ironically, the ultimate sufferer of that dharna culture is the common man. Not only his normal routine life is disrupted, but also, he can be overburdened with more indirect taxes because the government has to achieve its fiscal target and these protests slow down economic activities. This writer can also recall the early-2013 when Islamabad was under siege by Tahir ul Qadri’s PAT and has to undergo problems as this writer was admitted at the Quaid-i-Azam University but was unable to reach Islamabad from Karachi to pay admission fees within the stipulated time or else admission was to be cancelled. Thus, lockdown of cities and blocking public places is to multiply sufferings citizenry.
Keeping in view the skewed version of Tahrir-inspired protests in our country, the pressing situation in the public interest demands the regulation of protests. As the march and protests have become a culture that whoever is unhappy with the government of the day, they may block roads, cause damage to the public and private property, and disrupt the normalcy. Therefore, it is time that the legislature considers introducing law for the regulation of demonstrations such as designation of places in every city so that protestors may register their protests at the allocated places; the leader of such protest should apprise the law enforcement agencies in advance so that appropriate steps can be taken; such a leader shall also be responsible for managing the crowd so that they should not be causing any damage, nonetheless in case of damage recoveries should to be made; and in such special law videography should be considered as the primary evidence.
Dharna is the constitutional right of every citizen as enshrined in the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution. However, no one should be allowed to create disturbance under the garb of exercising the fundamental rights. It is time to regulate dharanas and bring them to the fold of legal framework.

The writer is a development sector practitioner and can be reached at amjadsiyal@hotmail.com