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The culture of sit-ins

History also tells us that PPP workers are far more experienced in handling an oppressive regime than the evening crowd that goes to attend a music concert in the name of change

I am not sure what the situation in Islamabad will be by the time these lines appear before you. The speed with which the political scenario changes here can be mindboggling, as if you are driving down the road from the top of a mountain without any brakes losing more control with every twist and gaining momentum with every turn. In a matter of just a few hours, a hero can be converted into a zero thanks to the hyperactive media and a zero can rise up to be recognised as the saviour of the nation. In short, anything is possible: the prime minister can end up in jail, his cabinet under house arrest or the protestors put behind bars and their leaders tried under high treason as the result of a major crackdown. 
Nonetheless, I will try to concentrate my discussion on the latest trend of organising prolonged sit-ins against an elected government instead of going into the details of its sponsors, the objectives, the players, the actors and the beneficiaries. All I can say at the present moment is that we do not have any direct evidence to blame anyone. And, in the absence of proof, I just do not want to make any assumption or hold anyone responsible that may in fact further confuse the situation. Although, after the testimony of Javed Hashmi, it is not very hard to speculate.
In that regard, my first question to any Pakistani is this: how difficult is it for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to gather a few thousand people in Islamabad? True, it did not win as many seats in the elections of 2013 as it should have but it faced the most brutal pre-poll rigging too. They could not even launch a proper campaign under a direct threat from the Taliban during the season. Despite that, the PPP still has, everyone can agree, thousands of resilient and committed workers who can endure all kinds of hardship including unpredictable weather or lack of food and housing to make any protest successful. History also tells us that PPP workers are far more experienced in handling an oppressive regime than the evening crowd that goes to attend a music concert in the name of change and comes home after dancing for a few hours thinking of themselves as revolutionaries and saviours of Pakistan.
What do they do in those few hours besides enjoying themselves? It is not rocket science to figure out; just listen to them for a few minutes and you will realise that the whole party and its supporters will be busy moving on the beat. Our parliament, judiciary, media, bureaucracy, politicians, police and all the supporters of other parties, no one is spared from the venomous language of the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). The same rule holds true for his followers: anyone who dares to disagree with them is slandered and reviled in the worst possible way. Is this how we are going to build a new and better Pakistan? By demolishing our heritage, the culture of respect and honour?
Now tell me: who can underestimate the street power of Mian Nawaz Sharif? His popularity, even after more than one year in office, remains more than 60 percent according to the recent Pew research poll. He too was able to regain and maintain his popularity after the martial law of General Musharraf, who, we know, abused all the state resources and tried his best to keep the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) out of politics. The former dictator wanted Nawaz Sharif away from Pakistan for the longest period assuming that, one day, Nawaz Sharif would become irrelevant, but the general could not succeed in his plans. On the contrary, Nawaz Sharif was able to galvanise a large crowd, much bigger than the current group of protestors, to restore the former Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, through public pressure against the whims of the establishment.
Does each one of them not possess enough power to choke Constitution Avenue or keep it blocked for a few weeks if he wants to? I am sure they can also build an unrealistic narrative of change while keeping the old mafia from Musharraf’s regime on their side. Is it not the easiest principle to follow for anyone? To say one thing and do just the opposite. All they have to do is provide it a different colour every time, from reforms, injustice, crime, education, health or corruption to equality, peace and Islam.
If the protesters win once, my argument is that every government will have a few months to rule because after that there will be a group from Sahiwal, Nowshera or Dadu or even a banned religious organisation from Jhang that will arrive in 20 buses to do a sit-in for an indefinite period of time and demand the resignation of the prime minister through their televised hate speech. That, in itself, is a recipe for disaster in which Pakistan has no future as a functional state. Also remember: once you are in a sit-in, the validity of your claims do not matter anymore. What matters is the modus operandi to get your point across. If that included attacking state symbols like parliament or the Supreme Court (SC), it is going to haunt you for a long time. Why is that so hard to understand? Imran, after the crisis is over, will have to reap what he is sowing today if he ever comes into power. I am not sure if Tahirul Qadri will ever be politically relevant enough to win a majority in parliament and take an oath under the constitution as the prime minster but I am confident that Imran could have become the head of government, had he been more serious to serve the people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.


The writer is a freelance columnist and may be contacted at zeeba.hashmi@gmail.com

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