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Monday, April 15, 2024

From street agitation to revolution in Pakistan

According to Dr. Farid A Malik, several political and martial law regimes have faced long marches and sit-ins in 72 years of the country's history. The South Asian nuclear state braced the first countrywide protests in 1953, A popular movement launched by left-wing student unions in 1968 against the military rule of Gen. Ayub Khan is considered the actual beginning of political protests in Pakistan.

As the firstborn of three generations of the new land, we were exposed to street agitation quite early. Students were at the forefront of most protests. After the Presidential elections of 1965, there was unrest. The opposition was united under Madar-e-Millat Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah while Ayub Khan the dictator felt cornered. Then the ill-fated, un-planned war and the Tashkent Declaration proved to be the proverbial last nail. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) the foreign minister blamed the dictator for a sell-out.

The entire student body from Karachi to Khyber was on the streets. There were pitched battles, tear gas and ‘Lathi Charge’ were used to control the protesters. ZAB stepped down and finally launched his own progressive political outfit in November 1967 called the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In 1968 the General decided to celebrate his so-called ‘Decade of Progress’. Exhibitations and rallies were organized all over the country. There was a serious backlash, while a few had prospered during his rule the vast majority of the suffering population came on the streets.

Read more: How can we restore an institutional order in Pakistan?

Gen Zia stepped down in March 1969, to be replaced by another dictator

After the first free and fair elections in 1970, followed by Military Action, Quaid’s Pakistan was dismembered. As the most popularly elected leader of the Western Wing ZAB came into power. After the assassination of the first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, democracy returned to the land of the pure. With the passage of the 1973 unanimous constitution, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan came into being as a ‘Constitutional Democracy’.

ZAB drew crowds on his progressive agenda and massive support of the downtrodden segments of the society including labor and student bodies. He promised ‘Roti, Kapra, Makan’, the masses believed him. His government was called; ‘Awami Hakumut’. He and his Comrades tried to serve the people, corruption was contained. It was an era of civilian supremacy. Being overconfident of his popularity, he dissolved the assemblies and went for elections ahead of schedule. Little did he know that a coalition of nine political parties by the name of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) was waiting in the wings.

After biting the dust in the National Assembly the opposition boycotted the provincial elections and launched a movement against the government demanding re-elections. By the time the PM agreed on holding fresh elections, the demands increased. Enforcement of  Nizam-e-Mustafa was demanded. While no framework of the new system was proposed it was used as a catchy slogan. Taking full advantage of the political conflict, General Zia-ul-Haq deposed the elected government and took control of the country. Pakistan has still not recovered from its ‘Dark Ages’. His political tailcoats have taken the country to the brink.

Read more: Pakistan’s dishonorable conduct in politics

Today, corruption is the biggest menace faced by the nation

As a very senior and hardened activist, I have seen it all. From Khan Qayyum Khan’s long march in October 1958 till Imran Khan’s (IK) march followed by ‘Dharna’ in 2014, Then there were staged long marches in the decade of the nineties that kept toppling governments of Benazir and Nawaz. I remember an incident during one of the marches against Benazir in her second term, I was parked on the Canal signal near the Doctor’s Hospital. A heavy Police contingent was also posted there. A villager was crossing the road with his Cow, the moment he passed by the Police contingent he was stopped. Sensing foul play, I kept watching the entire episode.

Finally, when his wallet was pulled out of his pocket by the men in uniform, I jumped in and caught them red-handed. Initially, they tried to browbeat me but I held my ground and made sure that the poor man went on his way with his prized possession. The Sub-inspector on duty was very upset at me saying; “We are here to stop the march“. Harassment and theft of the ordinary folks was their way to challenge and derail the democratic order.

Then the Lawyer’s Movement of 2007 was massive. Despite the mass mobilization of the people, the end result was more lawlessness. Today the judicial system has also been rendered non-functional like the sluggish bureaucracy. IK as Prime Minister (PM) has been trying to move the Donkey out of the shade since 2018 but with limited success. Now the opposition is getting ready for another movement against a civilian elected government. It seems no lessons have been learned by the political players in the arena.

Read more: Moving from ‘Muk Muka’ to merit -Dr. Farid A Malik

The current wave of price hikes cannot be resolved through agitation

After August 1973 when the constitution was enacted converting Pakistan into a constitutional democracy all battles should have been fought inside the parliament, not on the streets. The consensual document has over twenty clauses that have clearly defined the rights of the citizen, not one of them has been ever discussed on the floor of the house. Under restored Article 25 A, every five-year-old should have been in school by August 2016 but it has not happened. I have been raising my voice since then but no one seems interested.

The elected representatives should sit together and agree on the way forward. Another round of street agitation will not move the Donkey out of the shade. As a nation, we must agree on our future course of action. Either it should be evolution through the parliament or revolution by dismantling the system, nothing in between will work. In 1981, I was driving through Iran after the revolution in 1979. Shah and his system had been toppled. We were running low on fuel so we decided to approach the ‘Revolutionary Guards’ who were in control of the streets. One of them with his gun sat in my car and we drove to the house of the person in charge of fuel coupons.

Read more: What will be PTI’s agenda for second term? -Dr Farid A Malik

He was asked to issue coupons on the spot which he did and we were on our way in no time. For good governance there has to be moved either of the pens or the gun, stagnation cannot deliver. Unless the opposition comes up with a well-thought-out plan to control price hikes and inflation it will only lead to more ‘Donkey Bussiness’. At the end of the day, it will be more of the same. In the 21st year of the 21st century let us make our choice; Pen or Gun?


The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.