ISLAMABAD: Politicians, analysts and TV anchors are flaying PTI Chairman’s Imran Khan’s civil disobedience movement. The criticism came from all side, including political leaders, legal wizards and analysts. Whatever Khan had in his mind for giving such a call, the appeal not to pay taxes and utility bills appeared bizarre for even some of his own supporters in the sit-in as well as for many other ordinary citizens.
Having no idea about the concept or its historical significance, the political junta and several TV talk show hosts, were discussing and commenting on the concept of civil disobedience or passive resistance without realising that some historians or well-read persons may also be watching their show.
As a rule, political analysts are the ones dealing with political systems, theories and affairs who technically analyse issues or problems on basis of facts. In Pakistan, however, few appearances, even as a newscaster, are enough to qualify as an analyst, a trend which continues in local private TV stations unchecked.
“Listen, civil disobedience movement can be launched against dictatorship when the constitution is suspended. I don’t understand who gave Imran Khan this idea,” said a TV talk show host, who has been used as “analyst” these days by his channel.
“I agree with your argument. We struggled throughout against dictatorships but never gave a call for civil disobedience,” replied a PPP lawmaker, one more weak argument.
On another channel, amid protesters, a woman TV anchor going up and down on crane was looking for the most innocent supporters of PTI. She found some and came down and asked one of them to define civil disobedience. Far from giving any definition, the poor chap simply answered, “We will do what our leader will tell us.”
For any sane person, that was enough but not for her. “Khan has announced a campaign but his people do not even understand its meaning. How such movement will succeed?” she addressed the audience while moving up in the air.
Qasier Ahmed, a graduate from London School of Economics (LSE), standing nearby said, “I bet this woman herself won’t know the definition of civil disobedience and that is the only reason that she looks for simple people asking them unusual things. “Incompetent persons always take ability as a threat and this is exactly what this woman is doing. She should be ashamed for playing with emotions of people,” Qaiser said while curtly looking at her.
A day earlier, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan defined civil disobedience during a press conference as a movement against foreign occupation which can only be launched against state and not the government. Thus, the minister’s argument was also confusing.
The philosophical roots of civil disobedience can be found deep in Western political thought but it was first conceptualised by an American philosopher Henry David in 1849.
Thoreau published an essay, In Resistance to Civil Government, in which he had introduced a method for people to enact change in government by disobeying unjust laws through non-participation. While outlining the idea, Thoreau had argued that a law cannot stand without the support of people.
Barring several non-violent campaigns, which could not succeed, two civil disobedience movements led by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King (Junior) remained highly effective in history. Inspired from Thoreau’s concept, Gandhi first practiced it in South Africa against racial discrimination in 1906 and later in India to obtain equal rights and freedom for his people. His philosophy of civil disobedience was known as Satyagraha (non-violent resistance to evil) and it helped him throughout his freedom struggle to pressurize the British government in India.
Later, Martin Luther King Junior sought to end racial segregation in the southern United States by adopting the tactics and philosophy of civil disobedience through protests and sit-ins. This strategy finally led to the end of segregation in the United States, winning African Americans the equality they were seeking.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela had also started civil disobedience campaign in early 1960s but he had to abandon it following a spectacle of violence where the government opened fire against demonstrators of African National Congress (ANC) in Sharpeville, South Africa.
Imran Khan’s call for civil disobedience differs in many respects from how it was practiced in history. His aim is not to change or abolish any discriminatory or unpopular law but to topple the Sharif-led government through it. So far, his inexperienced team has been facing difficulty in defending their leader in media on his announcement of civil disobedience campaign but observers stationed outside Pakistan consider it a shrewd move to pressurize the government.
“In Pakistan, people may not be aware about the significance of civil disobedience but it’s a very alarming concept in the west. It can be an effective pressure-building tactic. If Imran sticks to it, he will mean to attract the world powers and subsequently damaging economically and politically the Sharif-led dispensation,” says Ahmed Hayat Yousafzai, a UK-based lawyer of Pakistani origin.
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