111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

More protest Demonstrations

Anti-government protests are not over yet only changed direction from Islamabad to Lahore. Pir Hameed-ud-Din of Sial Sharif and the firebrand leader of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Tahirul Qadri, are after the Punjab government. Whilst the former is demanding the resignation of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah questioning his religious beliefs, the latter wants both the Law Minister and his boss, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to step down for their alleged role in the Model Town killings.

What are their prospects of success? Before he announced a show of power in Faisalabad last week, the Pir had claimed around 20 members of the National and Punjab Assemblies would tender their resignations. In the event, only three MPAs (including his nephew) two MNAs and about 20 union councillors came up to his expectations. The Pir later admitted to an interviewer that most others had gone back on their word. Insisting to continue agitating for his demand he refuses to give a timeline, saying only that he would march on Lahore as a last resort. Notably, the 90 something Pir of Sial Sharif’s family is in politics; he has to take care of its political interests. He might want to wait and see what happens on the larger scene. Still, he is in negotiations with the government that quite possibly are to lead to some give-and-take. The CM is unlikely to sack his close confidante but, as on a pervious occasion, he might sideline the minister for the time being.

The more serious problem is Qadri. A crafty character he may be, but in the present instance he has a genuine cause: seeking justice for 14 of his followers killed and 51 others left with bullet injuries in Punjab Police firing at his Model Town residence as they prepared, in June 2014, to join a PTI sit-in in Islamabad. He has since been staging periodic, futile demonstrations. This time is different, though. Release of Justice Najafi’s report on the incident, resisted by the government for three-and-a-half years, has finally been made public on the Lahore High Court’s orders; and it seems to support the PAT claims that the orders to teach it a lesson came from the highest provincial authorities. Qadri has announced plans to hold a sit-in until the minister as well as the CM resign.

The timing of it could not be worse for the ruling party. General elections are only a few months away. The opposition parties wouldn’t let the opportunity go by to benefit from it. A stream of senior politicians from PPP co- Chairman Asif Ali Zardari (he needs to get rid of his party’s ‘friendly opposition’ tag and improve its electoral chances in Punjab), PTI Vice President Shah Mahmood Qureshi to PML-Q leaders Chaudhries Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi, Pak Sarzameen Party chief Mustafa Kamal, and a Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen delegation led by Nasir Shirazi have called on Qadri, assuring him of full support. They, of course, have nothing to lose and much to gain from backing a demand for justice. But for the PAT and the government it is an iffy situation. The party has to show to the aggrieved families it won’t let the accused off the hook. For now, it has urged the Supreme Court to form a joint investigation team for the case, like the one constituted to probe the Panama Papers case. It also has to hold good on its ‘dharna’ vow, though a firm date for that is yet to be announced.

When it happens the opposition parties’ heads may not appear alongside PAT chief on his container platform, but they will surely send their second line leaders and activists to join in. The Lahore High Court though might order the participants, as it did at the time of a previous PAT demonstration, to shift from the more effective Mall Road protest venue to the Nasser Bagh. That would reduce its impact, and Qadri could use it as a pretext to escape a protracted, troublesome protest. The government then can heave a sigh of relief. But it can also become uncontrollable. Any resort to use of force would only aggravate the situation.

So how is the PML-N to come out of this brewing storm with least bruises? A wise policy would be to take the path of least resistance, letting the protesters do their thing. If it gets out of control, considering that the government has only four months left in office, an easy solution could be to dissolve the assemblies and call fresh elections. That won’t hurt Shahbaz Sharif’s future prospects – unless the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case is opened – as he has almost completed his development projects. Protests would fizzle out and the Model Town killings case drag on in courts.

But given his mood and the events leading to the Federal law minister’s resignation, his older brother ousted prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, is not going to go for this option. He also has his eyes on the Senate elections come March. Besides, the Election Commission has yet to undertake constituency delimitation work, hence, elections cannot be held before time. Meanwhile, the senior Sharif brother’s own fate in the ongoing Panama Papers case is writ large. The PML-N may have gone along with him (due to a hefty financial incentive in the name of development funds?) when the opposition tried to overturn the law he had gotten enacted by Parliament to get reelected as its head, but the rumblings of dissent in it have not died down. Reports suggest many in the party are unhappy with his policy of confrontation. Muslim Leaguers have demonstrated time and again, they have no qualms about jumping off a sinking ship. If push comes to shove, they can be expected to run off and join some winning form of the League. The next few weeks promise to be full of drama and intrigue.


Saida Fazal, "More protest Demonstrations," Business Recorder. 2017-12-14.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social crises , Protest movements , Public administration , Model town incident , Model Town operation , Rana Sanaullah , Punjab