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Pakistan: Risk of destabilisation and extra-constitutional forces gaining grounds

Saturday 23 August 2014, by siawi3


Pakistan: Risk of destabilisation and extra-constitutional forces gaining grounds -August 2014 | reports and commentary

11 August

[statement by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, News reports and editorial commentary]

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

6 August 2014

Press Release

HRCP not impressed by no-holds-barred fight for gaddi

Lahore, August 5: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed alarm at an “exaggerated hassle over who should occupy the gaddi” leading to total neglect of the affairs of the state. It has called upon the government to focus on the real issues of the people and urged those seeking to pressurise the government through marching on Islamabad and other plans to realise the danger their actions have brought about for the country’s shaky democratic edifice.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Commission said: “As the drumbeat for the so-called Azadi march and other tactics aimed at mounting pressure on the government quickens, it is clear that none of the many parties to this spectacle is blameless. The government has made the mistake of not engaging with Imran Khan when he raised the question of rigging in four constituencies and instead of working out a political solution, they are seeking extra-political escape routes. The government has also made the mistake of treating Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri as major threats when its real threat comes from a failure or lack of interest in appropriately addressing people’s grievances related to lawlessness, targeted killing, sectarian violence, killing of human rights defenders and unemployment. The ground that Imran Khan is invoking for marching on Islamabad is not broadly acceptable and he has made the mistake of over-committing himself.

“Dr Qadri and Imran Khan are wrong in assuming that their tactics would not harm representative governance and the government is wrong in assuming that the people can be forced to fight for a non-functional democracy.

“There is a consensus that there was considerable mismanagement of the general elections but also that they were largely free of the official interference that had been witnessed in the past. In any case, complaints of malpractice have to be weighed against the respect democratic institutions must enjoy.

“The demand for early elections in democracy can be valid but it must rest on the government’s failure to deliver and the ability of the other party to present plausible alternatives. In Pakistan’s peculiar circumstances, we are still trying to establish the primary foundation of democracy and rocking it at this stage will only serve the interest of the extra-constitutional forces.

“The Commission feels very strongly about the exaggerated hassle over who should occupy the gaddi and over the affairs of the state being neglected week after week. The attention of the people and not just the rulers and their adversaries has been captivated by this drawn out spectacle – a huge loss of human resources and time.

“It is time that everyone returned to their posts and looked at the many pressing concerns of the citizenry, including internal displacement, armed conflict in the country, and the state of law and order and economy and tried to restore Pakistan’s plunging reputation in the world.”

Zohra Yusuf


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The Guardian, 10 August 2014

Pakistan protests: Islamabad prepares for anti-government demonstration

Imran Khan calls for Nawaz Sharif to resign, while supporters of cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri clash with police in Lahore

Jon Boone in Islamabad

A supporter holds an image of Tahir-ul-Qadri, leader of Pakistan Awami Tehreek, at a gathering in remembrance of activists who died in clashes with police in June. Photograph: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

Pakistan is bracing itself for huge street protests in the capital, Islamabad, this week amid political crisis that has resulted in cities’ petrol supplies being cut, clashes between police and the followers of a controversial cleric in Lahore, and demands by politician and former cricketer Imran Khan for the government to quit.

The chaos and political uncertainly comes a little more than a year after a landslide election victory swept Nawaz Sharif, a conservative businessman, to power for the third time. Sharif’s thumping parliamentary majority led to a rare outbreak of optimism among Pakistan watchers who dared to hope the new prime minister had the mandate to achieve his aims of reviving a broken economy, making peace with India and tackling Islamist militancy.

But in the 14 months since he took office, Sharif’s authority has been undermined by Pakistan’s powerful military, Canada-based cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and Khan – a demagogue politician who claims Sharif’s faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) rigged the election.

Khan has vowed to bring Islamabad to a standstill on Thursday, the county’s independence day, when huge numbers of his supporters will flood into the capital. He has vowed that they will remain until the government steps down and fresh elections are called.

Khan’s behaviour has baffled many analysts and diplomats who are not convinced the election was so flawed that Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was illegitimately denied victory. Most international observers judged the 2013 polls to have been considerably better than previous general elections.

“We didn’t reject the election results immediately because we thought we could get relief from the courts,” said senior PTI leader Shafqat Mahmood. “But now we have decided that everything we tried in parliament and the courts has not worked and so we have no recourse but to launch a huge protest.”

Sceptical observers point out that Khan has no way to legally achieve his aims given the government has a huge majority in parliament and is unlikely to vote itself out of existence. Nonetheless, the prospect of Khan’s “Freedom March” (in reality, a motorised drive) from Lahore to Islamabad on Thursday, has seriously alarmed the government. Drastic steps have been taken to try to block the protest, including declaring a ban on gatherings of more than four people and giving the army responsibility for guarding Islamabad.
Imran Khan Imran Khan claims Nawaz Sharif’s faction of the Pakistan Muslim League rigged the 2013 general election. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Other methods include the impounding of motorbikes and buses and the closure of petrol stations. The motorway linking Islamabad to Lahore is likely to be shut down. Critics say the government has mishandled the situation and should have allowed demonstrations to peter out during the sweltering monsoon conditions.

The government fears the presence of tens of thousands protesters in the capital could trigger violent confrontations creating an opening for an intervention by the army, which has seized power at several points in Pakistan’s history.

Addressing the press on Friday at his luxurious hilltop estate overlooking the capital, Khan said his supporters had the right to resist any attempts by the police or the army to enforce the ban on protests in the capital. “The police are not Pakistan’s police but Nawaz Sharif’s private henchmen,” he said. “If they try to stop peaceful protest then there is going to be violence.”

Sharif’s power has been challenged in the prime minister’s home city of Lahore, the capital of Punjab province. Violent supporters of Qadri have been fighting against police in cities across Punjab.

Qadri enjoys the support of huge numbers of committed activists through his political party, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and his religious organisation, the Minhaj-ul-Quran. He has long called for revolution, claiming Pakistan’s democratic structure is mired in corruption and must be swept away. In recent days his supporters have clashed with police near his office in an upmarket neighbourhood of Lahore where the city’s authorities had attempted to stop activists commemorating the killing in June of 14 party workers during an earlier standoff with police.

Qadri has promised his “Green Revolution” will see the immediate incarceration of government ministers and the introduction of a “10-point revolutionary agenda”.

Based for much of the time in Canada, he flew into Pakistan in June, when the government diverted his commercial flight to Lahore to prevent him landing in Islamabad where his supporters were waiting for him. On Sunday Qadri announced he would also lead a “Revolution March” of his supporters on Islamabad, although the PTI and PAT have not formally joined their efforts.

On Sunday the police charged Qadri with murder, incitement to violence and treason after the death of a police constable who was wounded in confrontations in Lahore on Friday.

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The Daily Times 11 August 2014

Editorial: Two wrongs never make a right

In a TV talk show, to a question why politicians in Pakistan do not learn from history, one of the panelists gave an interesting answer: “Because history does not move in Pakistan.” Interestingly, the programme showed clips of speeches of Mian Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif where they were threatening the PPP government to mend its ways or get ready for a revolution and being hanged in public. At one place Shahbaz is quoted calling Zardari a master thief. From the way Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri are addressing their workers, it is evident that our political leadership is short on civilised ways to negotiate national issues. But from the way the incumbent government has confronted the protests and responded to them show that the PML-N has not moved an inch either from its attitudes of the 1990s in dealing with opposition. Granted Tahirul Qadri is a late entrant to politics and is igniting violence by his fiery speeches that could create a law and order situation, but is using unthinking brute force the best way to nip the evil in the bud? Can the government close its eyes to the reality that Qadri possesses street power and brush him aside by merely saying that he is not worth talking to because his party has no presence in parliament? In other words can Qadri and his affiliates only be dealt with with the language of weapons, force and intimidation? It was this mentality that led to the Model Town incident on June 16 and what happened in Lahore and the Bahria interchange on the Motorway on August 9. The Qadri brigade was prepared this time round to face the Punjab police and following the instructions of their leader, they pounded the police with whatever weapons and force they could muster on Friday and Saturday. Several cars were set on fire, a police station was gutted and a police officer killed. Many injured are recovering in hospitals. On Youm-e-Shuhada (Martyr’s Day) yesterday, the workers of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) were stopped from coming into Lahore. Chaos could be seen in different cities and districts of Punjab. If the PAT and its leader Dr Qadri are responsible for bringing the situation to this pass, the Punjab government is equally to be blamed for behaving more like an autocracy then a democratic government.

The Youm-e-Shuhada on Sunday has been mercifully relatively peaceful. Dr Qadri had planned a march on the day, which he suspended at the last moment, asking his workers to stay where they were and commemorate the day locally. There were speculations that he will lay out his plan of action regarding the revolution he plans to bring about, but he did not and has postponed it for another three days. He will make now embark on his revolution march on August 14, the day when Imran is taking out his independence march. Granted that Qadri and his party had been hurt by the Model Town incident, but what difference did resorting to violence this time round make? Peaceful protest is far more powerful than a violent one. One of the reasons why the lawyers’ movement was successful and achieved the desired results was that it never created a law and order situation; the state did, which fact eventually became a game changer.

One can perhaps see the present political circumstances in Pakistan as part of the evolutionary process that every society goes through before reaching democratic maturity and stability. But the evolutionary process cannot be left on its own to find the right direction and space. Political and social evolution has to be consciously managed and reared in the cultural, political and social context of a given country. That is why we have tons of theories and doctrines emanating from the principles applied to manage situations as the world progresses. So can our leaders afford to sit back and complacently allow the political process to play itself out in a manner reminiscent of our dictatorial past? In that case, no government can survive and will eventually be brought to its knees, since tyranny cannot endure beyond a point. The olive branch the government is extending now to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf could have been done earlier as well, if only the government’s advisors had had the sagacity to see the situation unfolding in the manner it has.

Pakistan’s survival depends on the peaceful resolution of differences and in the continuation of democracy. One hopes that the political leadership both in the government and opposition grasps this reality and will not allow August 14 to become another destabilising showdown in the history of Pakistan.

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Dawn, 11 August 2014

Editorial: Undemocratic actions

Mr Qadri has announced he and his supporters will join the PTI’s Aug 14 rally in Islamabad — signalling an expected convergence of anti-PML-N forces. — Photo by Online

Determined to quell the protests of Tahirul Qadri and his supporters, the Punjab government — with, surely, the backing of the prime minister — has raised the stakes alarmingly.

A siege mentality combined with a reckless willingness to use the coercive power of the state against political opponents left the provincial capital, Lahore, in a state of virtual lockdown over the weekend and disrupted the transport infrastructure in many parts of the province. To be sure, neither are Mr Qadri’s demands legitimate nor have his supporters been entirely peaceful during various run-ins with the provincial law-enforcement authorities.

Yet, this is the same Mr Qadri and the same set of supporters who a year and a half ago set out for Islamabad from Lahore, camped on the streets of Islamabad for days to press their unlawful and unconstitutional demands, and then disbanded — with little to no violence.

So it is clearly more than a little disingenuous for the PML-N leadership to claim that Mr Qadri and his supporters are now some great threat to the public peace and so, implicitly, responsible for whatever actions the PML-N government has decided to take against them.

Perhaps the larger tragedy here is that a political party that has been in power in Punjab for over six years, has an overwhelming mandate in the province and faces absolutely no threat of being toppled by Mr Qadri’s antics is showing itself to be so undemocratic in its actions.

Using the police and the administrative apparatus of the province in such a partisan manner, denying the citizenry its right to free movement and creating an artificial shortage of basic necessities — this is truly the stuff of undemocratic regimes.

Elected — legitimately — and twice in a row by the voters of Punjab, the PML-N is proving yet again why genuine and meaningful reform of the police and bureaucracy is so difficult regardless of who is in power.

Were there a more independent and rules-bound police and public administration in Punjab — something surely six years of being in charge would have made possible if there had been the political will — the PML-N would be unable to try and crush its political opponents.

And so long as that is the basic approach to power (crush or be crushed), the necessary institutional reforms will be resisted by civilian, elected leaders too.

Yet, the problems for the PML-N, predictably, have only increased thanks to the events in Lahore over the weekend.

Mr Qadri has announced he and his supporters will join the PTI’s Aug 14 rally in Islamabad — signalling an expected convergence of anti-PML-N forces.

Meanwhile, the PML-N’s strong-arm tactics will have alienated a few more potential political allies and surely left sections of the public unhappy as well.

Political isolation is never a winning political strategy — but it appears to be where the PML-N is headed at the moment.

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Daily Times, 9 August 2014

Editorial: Egotism and chaos

The confrontation between the PML-N, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) looks increasingly like a clash of egos being played out on a national scale with the stakes being the survival not only of the democratic system, but of the country. The PML-N government has done itself no favours and seems bent on creating problems where formerly none existed. The example of this is in its stand-off with PAT leader Tahiurl Qadri, which has in the space of a few weeks elevated him to a disproportionately important figure in how events will now play out. The chaos began on June 16 when Lahore police tried to remove barriers from outside the Model Town offices of Qadri’s Minhajul Quran organisation a few days before he arrived in the country. His rhetoric aside, Qadri had little public support and was largely seen as an opportunist waiting to see what crumbs he could gather if a confrontation developed between the government and the PTI. When Minhajul Quran workers tried to prevent police from removing the barriers, a scuffle ensued and police indiscriminately fired on protestors, killing 12, including several women. The tragedy and perceived illegal use of force by the police was a boon for Qadri who was propelled into the limelight and became a focal point for unelected politicians like the Chaudhries of Gujarat. The debacle should have been a wake-up call for the government to act rationally and calmly to defuse the crisis and institute an effective inquiry to ensure the victims of the tragedy received justice. It instead offered the reluctant sacrifice of former provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah, who took the fall for the Punjab government’s incompetence. Far from placating an obviously aggrieved party, it refused to accept the PAT’s demands for the structure and formation of a judicial inquiry, setting up its own one-man judicial inquiry instead, which the PAT rejected. Qadri’s arrival in Lahore nearly created an international incident when he refused to exit his Emirates flight after it landed and was almost charged with hijacking by the airline. He was coaxed out of the airplane by Punjab Governor Muhammad Sarwar and since then has made angry threats about unseating the government through a ‘revolution’ while planning a rally on what he calls Youm-e-Shuhada (Martyr’s Day), August 10, to commemorate the victims of the Model Town tragedy. In a futile attempt to prevent this rally, the government on Thursday began arresting PAT workers around Punjab, with the PAT claiming that over 500 of its members have been taken into custody on the thin charge that they were planning to commit violence. Police then began moving containers and barbed wire around the Minhajul Quran office to prevent workers from reaching it.

Futile, because yesterday we were treated to the spectacle of police officers running from furious PAT workers who chased them away with sticks before removing the barriers and containers and marching on to Tahirul Qadri’s residence. Three thousand officers were reportedly deputed to stop them and even now clashes continue between PAT workers and the police, who lob tear gas with abandon but seem powerless to prevent the chaos despite arresting 150 PAT workers. The government’s decision to use these high-handed tactics instead of allowing Qadri to have his day in the sun are now blowing up in its face and events are outpacing it. Its statements about PAT ‘terrorism’ appear disingenuous in the wake of its brutal crackdown and it appears to have panicked in the run up to Imran Khan’s ‘Independence March’ on August 14, though the political harangue it faces did not constitute a serious threat to its authority until it reacted. Reportedly the government is also planning to blockade Islamabad using containers to prevent the PTI from overwhelming the capital. However, given that Imran Khan is more stubborn than Tahirul Qadri, it is doubtful it will be able to stop him in this manner, even as it tries to reach out to him for negotiations. He is unlikely to accept precisely because with its latest action the government has shot itself in the foot with regard to its democratic credentials. *