What is the exit strategy?

By Saad-ur-Rehman Khan

What started off as a peaceful march from Lahore to Islamabad — with the intention to change the face of Pakistan — has somehow managed to transform itself into a battle between the elites and the common man. Was this really what the Inqilabis and Naya-Pakistanis foresaw when they hit the roads? Was this part of Dr Qadri and Kaptaan Khan’s plan to see Pakistan rise from the ashes? Was this their ultimate goal? Is this the way they anticipated justice for the victims of Model Town and those allegedly responsible for rigging elections? 
That being said, what about our prime minister and his cabinet? Was this really all they could do to address the situation? Make peaceful protestors the subjects of teargas shelling? Resort to violence when our Khaki power paid little heed to your insecurity over containing the matter? 
Essentially, everyone has their story to tell; however, stories can be told and justifications can be explained, but how about we call a spade a spade. Firstly, Imran Khan’s constant denial over the PM’s resignation has really started to weaken his cause. How exactly will you force a democratically elected PM to stand down based on rhetoric that seems to hold little value? Perhaps the plausible way forward would have been to follow Article 95 of the Constitution and call a vote of no-confidence against him in the National Assembly. But wait, you seem to have lost confidence in yourself when you floated the idea of all your MNAs resigning from the Lower House. You wanted a street fight. 
Yes, credit should be given where its due, and credit goes to you and Mr Qadri for standing by your people each day since you began your struggle; but how long do you expect this to continue? What is PAT and PTI’s backup plan? How will you save face when things go south – just the way they did when you decided to move to the PM’s House? They say denial is not just a river in Egypt. 
Secondly, what exactly was Chaudhry Nisar unclear about when he allowed Dr Qadri and Imran Khan to protest peacefully in the Red Zone of Islamabad? If I remember correctly, both party leaders were warned not to move towards the PM’s official residence as force would be used against them and their respective parties. Why then was it necessary to risk the lives of thousands when you had already made an impact? PM Sahib is certainly not enjoying his tenure amidst this potential takeover; the Khaki power had summoned the both of you for talks; the media has supported your campaigns despite being beaten for doing their jobs; and most importantly, your supporters were rightly convinced that their leaders were fighting for a just cause. 
Why jump the gun on such a fair opportunity? What many people are failing to understand is the simple fact that moving towards the PM’s House added fuel to the fire, period. For over two weeks, the police stood by and listened to your songs and celebrations without raising a single finger. They were only put there if you were to act naïve and invade their space – which you quite literally did. Orders are orders, I’m afraid, and merely hanging on to the ‘peaceful protest’ strategy will no longer suffice. Peaceful protests are one thing. Invading your PM’s official residence is another. Would the both of you entertain uninvited guests to your places of residence; especially when you have knowledge that those guests are not happy with you? 
Our Constitution stands crystal clear on fundamental rights. Any ambiguity may well be interpreted in accordance with the status quo at the time. Article 16 of the Constitution envisages every Pakistani citizen’s freedom of assembly peacefully and without arms. However, it also provides a rather significant proviso that reads: “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order.”
If interpreted correctly, I believe everyone has the unconditional right to assemble in public places in the form of protests or dharnas if you may; however, only to the extent that it does not interfere with the country’s public order; in which case restrictions in the form of force may be used if anyone decides to exceed the desired ambit laid down by the Article. 
So now what? Are we going to act so blind as to pretend as if the government had no right to lay down its red line, beyond which things would lead to chaos? Or would we just prefer the government to sit back and lay down a red carpet for the thousands who would want to grab our PM by his throat, compliments to Kaaptan Sahib’s lavish style of speaking? Food for thought, I suppose. 
Regardless, even if, for the sake of argument, people did believe that a red carpet would lay there for them since their intentions were peaceful, then what? Was the amount of force used by police forces proportionate to their act – a peaceful march? The recent Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014, which has been crafted to deal with acts of terrorism has gone so far as to state in Section 3(2)(a) that police and armed forces must only open fire on a suspected terrorist as a ‘last resort’, upon which an inquiry will be held. How on God’s earth did the police draw an analogy between peaceful protestors and firing rubber and metal bullets towards them? If the police and armed forces have been instructed to fire on suspected terrorists as a last resort, does that mean that all the children, women and men outside the PM House were terrorists? What’s even more disturbing is the presence of the Punjab Police. Are they even legitimately officers of the law, or Gulu Butts dressed up in police uniforms to do the dirty work? Perhaps the lack of training and oversight of the police and demarcation of powers requires more balance than the cabinet thought. 
So where are we? Our PM has yet to address the nation as to how he plans to move forward and explain the unwarranted use of force on those exercising their fundamental right. Apparently, Mr Nisar seems to be the ‘acting PM’. What’s ironic is that our actual PM is not even out of the country. The joint sessions of parliament have stirred no new revelation, other than Senator Aitzaz Ahsan overwhelming PML-N using only words. The blatant denial by PML-N in approaching the army has truly undermined their supremacy as a party willing to resolve issues like these head on. Dr Qadri and Imran Khan’s constant rhetoric and stubborn attitude has proved quite futile, causing more loss to their own people and leaders than bringing about a concrete change – precisely what they set out to achieve. 
The Khaki powers, on the other hand, have demonstrated themselves very professionally – leaving political matters to those who were elected democratically. Although one needs to ask, why invoke Article 245 of the Constitution and then leave the police in-charge of the overall security?

The writer is a lawyer and research analyst at a think-tank

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