Skip to main content

VIEW: Rallies are like Russian Roulette (2007)

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JUN 07, 2007

As early warning signs of potential unrest preceded the proposed Karachi rallies of 12th May 2007, the consequences of a newly acquired affliction with the rally-syndrome became glaringly obvious on 12th May 2007. Granted that the mayhem witnessed in Karachi or the tragic conclusion of a rally in Charsadda is more of an exception than the norm, given the post 9/11 scenario, the old adage of safety in numbers no longer applies. Besides, the inconvenience faced by the people makes the concept irksome while its management makes the process dated. Notwithstanding the constitutional right of citizens to hold demonstrations or address congregations, places like Islamabad end up being sealed, Karachi is left in an appalling political mess and NWFP has to deal with the tragedy of Charsadda.

Polls will find that people like us are not in favor of rallies; and judging from the way they can end up, it is fairly easy to see why. There is an inherent flaw in the way demonstrations are ‘done’ here and this is what sets us apart from other parts of the world. Rallies are not uncommon elsewhere but they generally follow procedures and seldom hold up the lives of ordinary citizens. Take USA for instance where protestors are expected to remain in designated areas, the perimeters of which are patrolled by police. The sensitivity of a situation determines the level of police turnout and in any case demonstrations are restricted to areas easy to patrol; and oh yes, brandishing weapons is the prerogative of the police (plainclothes or otherwise) and not civilians.

Admittedly, the violence such as we witnessed lately may not be typical of protest marches here, however, when things go well in Pakistan, people still lose one (or two) working days, their liberty to wander the streets and peace of mind. Even the most peaceful of demonstration does not alter the lock down situation imposed on the populace so when rallies have been planned, it is advisable to put your own plans on hold. And since a day of protest can broaden into a couple of more days of strikes, imagine the losses faced by businesses, corporations and educational institutes. Whatever motivates these protests, be it theological, ideological or political, an assessment of recent events confirms that the effects and aftermath of rallies cost far too much in terms of human life, financial implications aside.

It has already been established that ‘actions’ of some law enforcement elements aggravated the problems in Islamabad on the 16th of March 2007 while their inaction fueled anarchy in Karachi on 12th of May 2007 ; nevertheless, a quick roundup of the aftereffects of recent demonstrations will show their impact on society and why the directive issued by the US embassy in Karachi during the events of 12th May 2007 where they advised American citizens to remain ‘indoors, alert and self-defensive’, is just as relevant for the locals.

As ominous headlines of a sealed Capital preceded the judicial demonstration on 16 March 2007, the ensuing disturbance, though limited to a few areas, left several twin cities residents confined at home and the blockade of Islamabad-Rawalpindi highway left others stranded elsewhere. Life remained partially paralyzed on both 16th and 17th of March despite the absence of an officially declared holiday and people packed up early fearful of a deteriorating situation. While actual lives may not have been in danger that day, the impact of events was powerful enough to restructure the organized lives of residents and visitors alike.

Since security threats mandate banning demonstrations anywhere , a place like Karachi haunted by a past of ethnic violence did not deserve the provocation of not one but two(or more) demonstrations. Though similar rallies had been pulled off successfully elsewhere in the country, the fact remains that like Russian roulette, it is a matter of time before one comes up against a loaded shell.

Even when the planned rallies were prevented from taking place, their disabling influence could be witnessed at significant junctions like Karachi’s Quaid-e-Azam International Airport or Railways where travelers had harrowing tales to tell while Shahra-e-Faisal was used for target practice and trigger happy goons ruled the city. As it is, airports are generally off limits to demonstrations so a large contingent of people headed there amounts to potential civil unrest. It would have been far more sensible to converge at other places and proceed without the accompanying fanfare than to disrupt the lives of citizens. The concentration of terror in areas like Shahra-e-Faisal previously deemed secure shook people up as much as the images of police in the role of spectators.

The disruptive influence of rallies mounts further with strikes and black days called to protest/mourn violence that mars one protest march or the other and thus Karachi was brought to a standstill for 3 days while the rest of the nation observed a sympathetic shut down. Strikes target the economy, such demonstrations can impair peace and both effectively shutdown the system.

Finally, the Aftab Sherpao congregation in NWFP on 28 April 2007 proved that public gatherings make appealing targets in these troubled times and there is no reason to provoke attacks that are hard to foresee and harder to prevent. Therefore, toning down these marches would be a mark of prudence not cowardice and well within the publics’ interest.

After the predicted happened in Karachi, a month long ban has now been imposed here when limiting such gatherings should have been the logical first step. Demonstrations such as these, wherever they are held in Pakistan, often have the unfortunate side effect of citizens being forced to reschedule their lives. That Karachi security should have been beefed up is already being debated and will be till some satisfying explanation is forthcoming; devising effective contingency plans to avoid a recurrence must take center stage amid the usual accusations hurled back and forth by alleged anarchists and supposed pacifists.

Karachi has already lost three days, precious lives and the carefully built up illusion of peace, so planning three more days of strikes again signals an open invitation to recession. Thrown off course frequently given the unruly nature of rallies and strikes, our nation’s energies have been dedicated more on course correction strategies these past few months than actual development. Until security can be ensured for protestors and liberty to citizens simultaneously, such acts can only be counterproductive.

Images Courtesy of: http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110217213722/uncyclopedia/images/thumb/4/45/Russian-roulette1.jpg/210px-Russian-roulette1.jpg

http://cache.virtualtourist.com/15/3887207-Mazar_e_Quaid_at_night_Karachi.jpg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Book of Davis - Reading between the lines

Published by Global Affairs / Aug 2017

Raymond Davis is a champ. A team player, who puts the needs of his comrades in arms before himself. He is savvy. He is a man of integrity - a survivor - a trooper. Ray, the epitome of courage runs headlong towards danger and into a minefield - literally. He is all this and more. This is his story after all.

6 years ago, he was a trained Special Forces SF, undercover ‘contractor’, forced to navigate the cramped alleyways of Lahore on a routine mission – the details of which remain a mystery. His book ‘The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis’ with Storms Reback, revisits the scene of the crime to solidify his innocence and along the way take a few potshots at random players who helped secure his release. It’s a hair-raising ride.

His style is conversational, his demeanor - amiable. The case is still fresh in people’s minds and his intent to set the record straight ignites yet another round of controversy…

OPED: Keeping the Truth & Reconciliation Train on Track in Pakistan & Bangladesh

Published by Global Affairs / June 2017

It is no secret that Pakistan’s Eastern Wing broke away or that India helped carve Bangladesh in 1971. There were weaknesses to be exploited and deep seated resentments that left sizeable fissures in between Pakistan’s East and West wing. The Indian PM Modi can now tip his hat to 1,661 Indian soldiers allied with an armed resistance – the dreaded Mukti Bahini without fear of reprisal. Of late, there have been whispers about a KGB element in the mix. But the past is over and done with. Or is it?

There was madness and mayhem and civil unrest. Both sides suffered. The figure of three million offered by Bangladesh however has been widely disputed. While there has been a lot of water under the bridge since 1971- there has not been any serious attempt at breaching the divide. But most Pakistanis have not whitewashed their history and acknowledge their errors in judgment and lack of political foresight that led to the debacle.

‘The wall between Bangl…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

OPED: Radd-ul-Fassad – An Urgent Revision in the Wake of Mashal Khan's Lynching

Published Global Affairs / June 2017

Written in the immediate aftermath of Mashal Khan's lynching

On December 2014, 148 people, mostly school kids were murdered by terrorists in the APS (Army Public School) school massacre. In April 2017, a university student was lynched in Mardan. One tragedy marked a turning point. Another opens a Pandora’s Box.

APS happened while Operation Zarb-e-Azb was underway. It shook the nation to its very core; and pushed the armed forces to expand the scope of its offensives. Military courts were set up in the aftermath. A death row inmate (Qadri), once lauded by clergy and lawyers for killing a Governor, was finally executed along with scores of militants.

And soon another operation would come into effect after shrines, rallies and public places were targeted in a resurgence of terror in 2017. If the first was driven by vengeance, the second came from desperation. Pakistan’s survival was at stake – unless it tackled the darkness head on. But the dark…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: Operation Geronimo – the Betrayal and Execution of Osama Bin Laden and its Aftermath

Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 27 April 2013
Author: Shaukat Qadir
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal



Book Cover Courtesy: Link

The insider account by a former SEAL later used to prop up the raid sequence of ‘Zero Dark Thirty fills in the dramatic details but a change in vantage point zooms in on the Pakistani equation. In less than a 100 pages, the author proceeds to tie up loose ends leftover from the reams of official spin surrounding the events of May 1 2011.

He is a retired infantry Brigadier from Pakistan Army who uses his unprecedented access to the corridors of military power to launch an independent inquiry into the incident. His research takes in isolated facts, hidden motives and shadowy agendas to create an alternate timeline of events. They correspond with the main outlines of the sanctioned version but differ in the approach. The resultant document builds an appealing profile that demands a second look at the so called ‘mansion’ in Abbottabad and the dead man walking within…