The culture of sit-ins

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Malik Ashraf
THE supporters of Tehreek-i-Labbak Ya Rasool Allah have occupied Faizabad interchange since November 6 demanding the resignation of the Law Minister Zahid Hamid whom they held responsible for changing the oath regarding Khatm-i-Nabuwwat in the Electoral Reforms Bill notwithstanding the fact that the aberration has been rectified by the government and the Islamabad High Court( IHC) delivering a verdict on its petition ordered the protestors to call off their ‘dharna’ which was creating difficulties for the citizens of the twin cities. The court further observed “It is expected that by showing grace the petitioners will pay respect to law of the land and positively respond to the order passed by this court”. The court referring to the method adopted by the petitioners to record their protest remarked” It is absolutely wrong even to execute a righteous cause through illegitimate and sinful methods”
Nobody in his right mind can differ with the observations of the court and the legitimacy of the orders passed by the court. The conduct of the protestors also vitiates Islamic teachings in regards to allegiance to the state and responsible behaviour as a citizen. But it is regrettably that the protestors have not paid any heed to the orders of the court and remain adamant to vacate the place adding to the miseries of the general public. The IHC though another order directed the Islamabad to remove the protestors from the place by Saturday by seeking assistance from Frontier Constabulary and Rangers if need be. However the government has sought extension in the deadline and has been making relentless efforts to have the issue resolved through negotiations even with the involvement of some religious leaders. However the stalemate has not been resolved. Nevertheless the government has decided to give one more chance to the peace efforts by inviting 30 Mashaikhs and Ulemas to become part of the negotiations. Whether this last ditch effort to resolve the crisis succeeds or not only time will tell. However one thing is clear that in case of the failure of the dialogue the government would have no choice other than using force to implement the orders of the High Court.
It is perhaps pertinent to point out that the government has shown remarkable patience and sagacity in avoiding a clash with the protestors, which some media reports have suggested were also armed. However what is the most regrettable to note is that a culture of defiance of the orders of courts and sit-ins (dharnas) which were undemocratic, unlawful and tantamount to a severe challenge to the writ of the government and the state has become well entrenched in the country. That surely is a disastrous trend for any society and can have very serious repercussions in regards to national cohesion and integrity besides scuttling the chances of democracy ever taking roots in the country. This trend is a formidable addition to the already existing fault lines in our society. It needs to be resisted by the civil society and all the stakeholders in the future of Pakistan as a vibrant democratic state enjoying respectable place in the comity of nations.
Unfortunately this culture has been introduced in the country by the duo of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri. The latter appeared from nowhere before the 2013 elections and staged a sit-in Islamabad with the help of his few thousand followers who occupied the area in front of Parliament for several days and was persuaded to leave after protracted negotiations with the PPP government and signing of a charter of demands that the government undertook to fulfil. Then he left the country and re-emerged after the 2013 elections when Imran Khan had launched a campaign against rigging in the general elections of 2013. It may not be out of place to mention that before the duo started its march towards Islamabad the Lahore High Court declared their demands and the decision to march on Islamabad as unconstitutional. But in defiance of the High Court orders they arrived in Islamabad and what followed is known not only to the people of Pakistan but the whole world. This was followed by a number of short duration sit-ins in Lahore both by PTI and PAT causing lot of inconvenience to the citizens. Imran Khan notwithstanding the fact that his party had 32 MNAs in the National Assembly including himself has invariably preferred the streets to agitate rather than using the forum of Parliament to have those issue resolved in a legal and democratic manner, defying his own mandate.
The country is facing formidable challenges and security threats which can be surmounted only through ensuring ascendency of law and the constitution, strengthening of democracy and inculcating a culture of pursuing political and other objectives through legitimate and legal means. Although the onus lies on the whole society to take corrective actions but our politicians and the religious leaders have a much greater responsibility in setting positive trends within the society by developing a national narrative in conformity with the vision of the founding father. The politicians need to play a leading role in this national effort by abandoning politics of self-aggrandizement and placing the national interest above everything. The media also has to end polarization within its own ranks and play a constructive role in neutralizing the negative trends emerging in the society.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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