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

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: Thinner Than Skin

Published inDaily Times (Pakistan) / 23 Feb 2013
Author: Uzma Aslam Khan
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal



Uzma Aslam Khan is the author of critically acclaimed, award winning books like Trespassing and Geometry of God. Her new novel, 'Thinner than Skin' goes off the beaten track for inspiration. A realm built upon incomprehensible layers of intrigue, violence, fairytales and legends provides the stage. People foraging for a lifeline become the props. And the inevitable soundtrack of radicalism now coursing through every fibre sets Pakistan’s modern heart to an ancient beat.

It is these paradoxes that bring its US-based protagonist, Nadir, along with a German-Pakistani girl, Farhana, on a trek from northern California to the Kaghan Valley. Wesley — the American in the background — is drawn to the mating glacier ritual, which is an actual thing. And their trusty ally/guide Irfan charts the course to their path of self-discovery past majestic mountains and ice encrusted lakes.

Their quest …

INTERVIEW: What makes a Fighter Ace? (2006)

Written many moons ago when i was an Asst. Ed with Social Pages.

Published in Defence Journal September 2006

Republished in PROBENEWS(2006)


Legend has it that a Sabre took off from Sargodha airfield to intercept Hunters on a fateful September morning & landed back with an Ace.

120 Seconds: Squadron Leader Alam in a Sabre is on Air Combat Patrol accompanied by his wingman. Upon observing IAF Hunters exiting after an unsuccessful air strike over Sargodha, Alam sets off in hot pursuit of the enemy formation. He pursues a fleeing Hunter and eventually shoots it down with a missile shot.


He spots the other members of the Hunter formations flying very low and as he approaches the trailing member he is spotted and the entire formation breaks (violent turn) in the same direction - a fatal error as in less than two minute Alam has taken out four of them, (as confirmed by more than one independent eye witness) 1 bringing his tally for the mission to five…… And an Ace is born - a legendry ins…

BOOK REVIEW: Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West

Published by Daily Times / 5 May 2012

When characters in a modernised version of Sherlock Holmes make a passing reference to Karachi — they only have Daniel Pearl in mind. When the ISI agents are featured on TV shows — it is because they can stand in for the US’s favourite Cold War foes.

Such imagery goes well with the popular narrative doing the global rounds. A widening gulf between Islam and the West, the oscillating nature of the Pak-US relationship, and the alarming levels of toxicity within, is a source of concern and confusion. Now, it is the subject of a book. At the launch of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West, veteran columnist Irfan Husain briefly touched upon these incongruities. In the book, he delves deeper into a cheerless terrain where reason has been cast adrift and paranoia is king.

Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West meticulously sifts through centuries of suspicion and decades of scorched earth left behind by Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan t…

KARACHI DIARIES: 6th LADIESFUND® Women's Awards 2014

First Published in Economic Affairs (Apr 2014) P-36


They conquered Everest in their spare time & crafted empires; their names were featured in Forbes ‘30 under 30’. Somewhere along the way they had reset the bar. Their contributions had not gone un-noticed.





The people who had made the list included trailblazers, trendsetters, risk-takers & crusaders, seen at the 6th LADIESFUND® Annual Women’s Awards. An event to salute an unlikely band of heroes who left a legacy of courage & compassion also acknowledged exceptional women on the rise.


LADIESFUND® launched by Dawood Global Foundation (2007) & headed by Tara Uzra Dawood, celebrates these achievements by adding powerhouse women and their noble causes to their wall of fame. It also makes its core mission - Educate 1000 Girls, the lynchpin & encourages the entrepreneur within our ranks. The talented Alycia Dias, who performed the anthem & walked away with a musical scholarship, would be joined by other hopefuls, …

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…

BOOK REVIEW: Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle With Militant Islam (2007)

Author: Zahid Hussain

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JUNE 14, 2007

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Frontline Pakistan: the struggle with militant Islam goes for the jugular with an insiders look at a deformed culture borne of a dated ideology, fueled by vested interest and driven by intolerance; and a nation’s complicity.

Not surprisingly, the legitimacy granted jihadists by ISI-CIA ran out soon, as did the sympathy for their jihadist actions formally perceived as heroic. Once used to counter the threat of communism, the rapid shift in their objectives that placed Pakistan’s national interest on a collision course with its security rendered them an anachronism.

This led to a parting of ways with the ISI; consequently, the deadliness of operations and depth of penetration in society seen in the context of 9/11 forever breached the line between liberators and terrorists.

Veteran journalist Zahid Hussain, Pakistani correspondent for the "Times of London", "The Wall Street Journal", …