The Politics of Shipping Containers

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

A government is supposed to protect the interest of its public. But what to do if it becomes the biggest hurdle in their way?

Now for the uninitiated, the politics of shipping containers probably sounds like manipulating the trade at the port, not that that was never a problem, but these shipping containers are contributing to the economy around a thousand miles from the shore. In the federal capital and in a very different way too.

We had all suffered the consequences of the blockade during the 2014 sit-in protest by PTI and PAT.  Now it is time to brace ourselves again to dread getting out on the roads and to find our way out of the gridlock. The question is, who has the time and money? No matter which side you are on, you would be forced to either stay home or join the political tamasha.

Can you blame the entire problem on the PTI and Sheikh Rasheed protests? Probably you can, because the containers were not there a couple of days ago. But here they are now. Still, they are not put into place by them. The fact of the matter is that the government can possibly handle this situation in another way. Imposing Section 144 is not the solution to every problem.

So I wonder if it is the fault of the protesters or the Federal Interior Ministry itself that people like me cannot go to work when they should be able to on a regular weekday. Of course, we are not fully aware of the reasons why shipping containers are used to block roads, perhaps to block suicide bombing trucks, who knows? But ever since these blockades have started appearing on our roads, the lives of the people of the twin cities have never been the same.

While the party in power uses shipping containers to block access from roads, the one in the opposition would use it as a stage to prolong, if not perpetuate, the misery. PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s recent call to shut down the capital is just one such example, which has already sent the stock market crashing even when the actual sit-in protest has not taken place yet. To add insult to injury, he has decided to challenge the orders from the Islamabad High Court forbidding the shutdown.

The fact of the matter is that the people want to get on with their lives and are sick and tired of the storms of made-up revolutions that our political leaders like to stir in a teacup. Clearly, most of the people reject the politics of shipping containers, something which could even be a threat to our fragile democracy. But like always, this silent majority remains without a voice.

What is even worse is that the government that warns protesters of refraining from interrupting public life is doing all it can to make things miserable for them. This is what the politics in Pakistan have come down to, only to strengthen the ignorant belief that democracy is not fit for a “country like Pakistan.” Whatever that means.

Perhaps we cannot get past the days of tear gas because we have not evolved from rioting and destroying to the peaceful protest that is often met with ridicule in our society. Perhaps we would really attain the ideals that we speak so fondly of when we really start supporting peaceful, liberal democratic values on the ground and learn to respect the democratic process.

Out of all the rights of the people that the government is responsible to uphold, perhaps the most underestimated in Pakistan is the freedom to access. People are simply too willing to give too much for too little. This reflects the way our government thinks and it also offers an insight into our minds as well. This probably means that our days of living in an authoritarian state are not over and neither is the will to resist it. Or if things have improved indeed, we have still not been able to shake off the hangover from our past of dictatorships.

I hope some day our protesters would learn to make their point without blocking roads and that our governments could restore order without taking any lives.

Is it too much to ask?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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Her Mother Didn’t Have to Die

 

 

The other day I was writing a post on the Lahore PAT protest and police violence, so I came across this video.

Let’s keep politics aside for a moment.

Now call me an idiot or accuse me of emotional blackmail, and I’d gladly agree, but nothing has affected me more recently than this. Because I can so easily see myself in her position.

Now the question that the little girl asks is so clear, so valid, so astonishing, that not only it moves you to tears, but also makes you reflect on its possible answer, which no adult would be able to give to her.

One simple question.

Why did they kill her mother? Really, why.

There is one thing that I know pretty clearly and that is that her mother did not have to die. But would she understand why.

Her mother should not have been putting her life on the line for a cause as ridiculous as removing a security barrier from a religious leader’s home. For her children’s sake at least.

Seriously, what was this incident about anyway?

But surely it was not her fault. Probably she was just trying to evade a bullet or a baton around the residential compound.

Probably she was a passer-by or just happened to be caught up in the great mess. Maybe she was just a Minhaj-ul-Quran employee and was doing her job.

But perhaps the Punjab police should have thought twice before relentlessly firing at the people and beating them.

But didn’t some cops die too?

I don’t know.

I just know very clearly that her mother did not have to die.

It’s not only unfair. It’s irresponsible.

Countless individual lives are ruined by politics everyday with people dying for the convenience of politicians.

War is understandable and hard to avoid, but such petty politics.

Nobody learns any lessons.

State Violence, Democracy and the Illusion of Liberty

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

A comment on the latest incident of carnage in Lahore.

Ahead of the arrival of Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Maulana Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, the Punjab Police supposedly wanted to remove a barrier outside his residence.

They were met with supposedly violent resistance and the police ended up firing on them, apart from violently beating them for not letting them do their jobs. The incident resulted in 8 deaths and counting and several critical injuries.

A needless, needless loss of lives. I really respect people who give their lives for democracy, but wonder what the cause was here.

In any case, this surely has been the greatest mistake to date of the Punjab government and one that could have been avoided. There was bait for state violence and Punjab government took it. Needless and disastrous.

But it is pretty much mission accomplished for PAT leader Tahir-ul-Qadri who had prepared supporters for martyrdom and has asked the government to step down as lex talionis.

I know it’s better to shut up about it if you don’t know the facts, but a few occurrences are unmistakable.

The Punjab police actively confronted the protesters this time around.

zI support aggressively curbing violent protesters damaging private property, but don’t forget, the Punjab Police were arguably infringing on private property themselves. Unless they had a judicial warrant.

However, if the guards fired first, as the government claims, they suffered the consequences. With liberty to bear arms, comes responsibility for actions.

But the Punjab police is traditionally very lenient when it comes to violent protesters, rioting religious mobs burning Christian colonies and women being stoned to death.

They usually witness the incidents and lodge a report afterward. Hell, they could not even protect vehicle-damaging Gullu Butt to be beaten up by an angry mob near, if not inside, the Lahore court.

So what happened that day?

It can be safely said that the police were ordered by some high officials to crack down on the protesters in such a violent way, some of them unarmed women. It could either be the responsibility of the police chief, the Punjab law and home minister Rana Sanaullah or the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif himself.

At the moment, the Chief Minister is playing safe and has ordered an inquiry into the incident. But it is clear that what happened was undemocratic, unconstitutional and dictatorial. It was not only an excessive overreach, but criminal on the part of the government.

Rana Sanaullah - Source: Dawn

Rana Sanaullah – Source: Dawn

In my opinion, at least the Punjab law and home minister Rana Sanaullah should step down to offer reasonable closure to the incidence, if not someone higher in the hierarchy. For now, only police officials have been suspended.

Who would regard the Constitution, if not a democratic government?

But to add insult to injury, PML-N has now handed over tremendous political leverage to the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, who would rightfully play martyrs now. Well, and guess who is saying the same about the PML-N government. The opposition is rightful in reminding the provincial government that it’s a democracy.

PML-N must pay a price for its disregard of democratic principles, and especially more for its idiocy and political naivety.

But make no mistake about it. Dr. Qadri is on a mission here, and has way too many brainwashed pawns at his disposal. And he made a fool out of the PML-N, if not a criminal.

The likes of Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, as reasonable as they may sound in their criticism of a faulty democratic system, represent a mindset against democracy in Pakistan. This mindset has been particularly promoted and nurtured by the State bureaucracy in Pakistan, which involves holding democracy and the Constitution in contempt.

They are doing it for the right reasons alright, but all the parties lining up for the government to step down are the ones who are always standing for pro-establishment campaigns. Why is the PPP largely silent at this point and only resorted to issuing a warning before the incident?

In front of our very eyes, we are witnessing pro-establishment parties building a coalition against the elected federal government. And everyone who was not happy with the result of the last election stand behind them. Apparently except the PPP.

The demands of the government to resign due to the violation of democratic principles are fair. The demands of suspending democracy are not.

The most idiotic part is that people call for or expect the martial law whenever a civilian government violates democratic principles. More oppression as a remedy for oppression. How ironic.

Has anyone ever asked for our state bureaucracy to step down? Yes, and don’t ask what happened to them in the 1980s.

Sadly, many in this coalition do not understand that a dictator has no reason or interest to reform a democracy. They can wish for a dictator like General Musharraf again, but that’s just wishful thinking. But a democratic government, no matter how terrible it is, can be voted out.

I agree that the current democratic apparatus does not offer true liberty, since its foundation lies in authoritarianism and Islamic principles, but the perceived liberty offered by military dictatorships is an even greater illusion.

Don’t forget, right now at least people have the option to ask, and are asking, for government officials to step down.

Wonder if that would be the case if a Pakistan Army General were in power.