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.

Raiding Sit-in Protests

Source: Pakistan Today

Right ahead of the launching ceremony of Khadim-e-Aala’s brilliant Metro Bus Service in Lahore, the hunger strike and sit-in protest camp of the Young Doctor’s Association was raided by Punjab police. They used violence and injured dissenting doctors in a very “fascist” manner, though the adjective is usually reserved for liberals in Pakistan. Even orders of arrresting doctors at sight were issued.

I am not talking about the YDA protest march to disrupt the launching ceremony over here, even though violence on those protestors is as wrong and horrid, even if we assume that these protests are politically motivated as alleged by the ruling party. The protesting doctors later made peace with the CM after breaking the fast, though I don’t expect it to last for long.

I would just like to ask if the people of the province would remain as calm had even a fraction of such a police raid been made on the sit-in protest organized by Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri in Islamabad. This is something that everyone of us must ask ourselves and get our priorities straight, because a spectator would expect people to support a protest demanding better healthcare. No messages here for the Punjab government when some of our leaders think that this is the kind of treatment that our citizens deserve. Anyway.

I know a lot of friends would have supported action against the Islamabad sit-in protests calling for electoral reforms, regardless of who organized it and who did not, genuine or staged or whatever, because they did not agree with it, as neither did I. But I would have still strongly oppossed any violent action against the protestors, though there was talk of planning for carrying it out.

Because I knew that a lot more sit-in protests will be held all across the country in the future, whether they are about things you agree with or not. Yes, in a democracy, you never always get what you want, especially when you are living in a state as turbulent as Pakistan. And let’s talk about only those sit-in protests which remain peaceful and don’t become destructive in terms of damage to property.

And there will be more necessary sit-in protests as the ones carried out by the Shia and Hazara community. Because apparently our current PM Raja Pervez Ashraf sb needs a few corpses on the road every now and then to be inspired to get to work.

Before you are outraged at the post, I am not comparing the causes here, just the form of protest. Because you see, traditionally, our protests as a nation and a people are wild and violent, involving a lot of fire and gunshots, and that is what the world knows us for. Sit-in protests can really suck sometimes, especially when they disrupt life (though that is what they are meant for).

It is irritating but if Pakistanis have started to protest peacefully for a change, why force them to become violent? This is why the raid on the doctors’ camp, especially if it wasn’t even causing a road blockade, was wrong on so many levels.

But another part of me, though not strongly, doesn’t really want to put up with all the road blockades and traffic jams for too long. Though I know that there is no choice but to be stuck with a social and political system that is content with putting up with all the injustice and violence.