Protests in Pakistan

Harsha Kakkar
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of all major opposition political parties, launched recently with Maulana Fazlur Rehman as its head, has already shaken the establishment. As per Pakistan’s Express Tribune, all its rallies ‘attracted tens of thousands of protesters. ‘Nawaz Sharif addressed the first rally at Gujranwala from London and accused the Pakistan army chief, General Bajwa, and the Director General ISI, Faiz Hameed, of interfering in the country’s internal politics. The fact that sedition charges were slapped on Nawaz made no impact.
The rally in Karachi last week was the turning point. Large crowds proved the power of the alliance. Resignation of the Government and a warning to the army against interfering in internal politics continue being main themes. The PDM vowed to continue the struggle till there was a change in the political structure and system of governance within the country.
The Pak army has always viewed its politicians with disdain and refused to share space with them, preferring to keep them subdued under the military boot. The show of force in rallies compelled the establishment to reconsider its strategy, as it was evident that the movement was becoming a success, growing in strength and gaining in support. The army had assumed that the alliance, like others before, would fade with time or break due to internal wrangling for power. The last such alliance was attempted when Musharraf stood for President. It collapsed with the arrest of a few members.
The army, in response to growing opposition unity acted in haste, aiming to break the alliance by selective arrests. Sindh, where the rally was conducted, is run by the PPP, a part of the alliance. The army assumed that arresting selected leaders would lead to a rift within the alliance. It planned to arrest Captain Safdar, son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif, from the PML (N), leading to disagreements between two strongest partners. It ordered the local police to issue an arrest warrant, which was rejected.
In desperation, the Pak rangers, controlled by the army, operating under their interior minister, Brigadier Ijaz Shah, kidnapped the Sindh IGP and compelled him to sign a warrant for the arrest of Safdar, under duress.Safdarwas picked up from the hotel room where he was staying, taken to prison and subsequently released on bail. This one act led to intense anger against the establishment and Government. What was intended to break the alliance instead unified them.
As per The Dawn, as soon as news of the arrest spread, Bilawal Bhutto, Chairman of the PPP spoke to Maryam Sharif and ‘expressed complete solidarity with her, adding the manner in which the arrest was made is against the traditions of Sindh.’ The Sindh government issued a press release mentioning, ‘it was not informed about the arrest.’
The Sindh Bar Association in a statement announced, ‘that unless this trend of military interference in civil and judicial administration is immediately reversed it will permanently damage public reputation and trust.’ It also asked the supreme court to take Suo Moto notice of the incident.A similar incident in 2007, where the judiciary and legal fraternity stood behind the chief justice, who refused to resign under pressure led to the downfall of Musharraf. This time the legal fraternity is backing the Sindh police against the army.
This pushed the establishment onto the backfoot. General Bajwa was compelled to speak to Bilawal Bhutto to diffuse rising anger.A statement issued by the ISPR, Pakistan army’s public relations branch, stated that the army chief had directed that an inquiry be conducted, and details obtained as early as possible. Things had gone out of control. The alliance members supported one another and focussed national anger against the army. The Pak army has a history of never investigating against its own, this will be no different. It will only seek to buy time.
As per a report in the Dawn of 21st Oct, ‘Sindh IGP along with at least two additional inspectors general, seven deputy inspectors general and six senior superintendents of Sindh police applied for leave in order to come out of shock caused by the episode of registration of FIR against Captain Safdar.’ All applications were identical and stated, ‘The recent episode of registration of FIR in which police high command has not only been ridiculed and mishandled, but all ranks of Sindh police have been demoralised and shocked.’ Bilawal Bhutto and the CM of Sindh stood in solidarity with the police and based on the request of the CM, police officials withheld their applications for leave, awaiting a closure to the army investigation.
The incident has come as a major embarrassment for the current Government which has till recently been accusing the PDM of dancing to Indian tunes. Imran had also stated that he was 100% certain that India was behind Nawaz. The current crisis and enhanced coordination within the alliance was caused by a display of highhandedness by his own Government and the army. Imran could not term his own Government’s actions as being motivated and guided by Indian security agencies.
The fact that neither Imran Khan nor his senior ministers spoke to the Sindh CM proves beyond doubt that directions for this action had flowed from Rawalpindi. The interior minister, known for his links with the ISI and terrorist groups, was acting on Rawalpindi’s orders. Kidnapping a senior police official, by junior ranger and army officials, displayed that the establishment has no respect for any central agency, other than its own, and treats its own people with utter disdain.
Expecting the Supreme Court, which has faced investigation of its judges for income beyond their means at the behest of the army, to act is unlikely. With no action being contemplated against Papa John Pizza owner, General Bajwa, for financial fraud, conveys the message that the army is above accountability and the law. In such a scenario an army investigation will remain an eyewash.
The PDM should take this incident as a precursor to rising challenges in the days ahead as the establishment faces increased pressure. It should exploit this incident and project the words of Maulana Fazlur Rehman that the army ‘must move back to barracks,’ The PDM needs to comprehend that success of their movement will usher in peace and development in the country and region. Their failure will push Pak further under the army boot.Pakistan’s future is riding on them.
The author is a Major General (Retd)