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PDM, Aurat March, Myanmar and all that

The long title of today’s column does not reflect the lack of an important subject that can stand alone, but the commonality of many themes that afflict Pakistan and the world. Reflect.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has all but interred the good of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) with the bad. This followed Asif Ali Zardari’s rude and objectionable statements in the recent PDM meeting, where he linked acceptance of the PDM’s demand for en masse resignations with the return of Nawaz Sharif to ‘face the music’ along with all the other PDM leadership, including of course the PPP. From there onwards it has been a steady slide downhill for the PDM. The Senate elections and their aftermath, in which the PPP is treading furiously in the water to defend its indefensible going back on the commitment to give the Senate Leader of the Opposition slot to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in return for their and the PDM entire’s support to Yousaf Raza Gilani, first to be elected Senator from Islamabad, later as candidate for Senate Chairman. But this defence is just not cutting it. To cut a long story short, it seems the PPP-PML-N all-too-brief romance has ended (once again). This spells disaster if not doom for the PDM, in limbo for all intents and purposes after indefinitely postponing its planned long march to Islamabad.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government and Prime Minister Imran Khan must be rejoicing this turn of events since it could mean the government will survive till the end of its tenure. Of course this continuation in office still requires the support of the military establishment. So before the PTI pulls out the champagne to celebrate, they should take serious stock of how far this support can be taken for granted by a government imposed through rigging with the establishment’s help and continuing to flounder without a plan, vision or strategy.

Strange happenings are in evidence since the Aurat March on March 8, 2021 gave rise to false accusations of blasphemy against the organisers and participants, which fortunately were soon exposed before any harm could ensue. It seems, however, that the matter has not ended there but acquired new and unexpected twists. Two recent orders by Sessions Courts in Peshawar and Karachi have directed the police in these two cities to file FIRs against (hold your breath) the Islamabad organisers of the Aurat March. The alleged ‘offending’ slogans and placards that gave rise to blasphemy accusations through doctoring the messages, were ‘discovered’ by our guardians of religion in Lahore and Karachi. But the charges have been ordered to be filed by the Sessions Courts in Peshawar and Karachi against the Islamabad Aurat March organisers!

The apparent mystery is cleared up by a perusal of the facts. The Islamabad Aurat March organisers have at their heart progressive women on the platform of the Women’s Democratic Front, who are aligned with the left-wing Awami Workers Party (AWP). AWP has come out with a strong condemnation of this misplaced concreteness and pledged all-out support to the Islamabad organisers under the cosh. So far so good. But what is troubling is reports that the Lahore and Karachi Aurat March organisers have not only failed to stand up and take responsibility for fighting the false accusations against them, they have refused to stand in solidarity with their Islamabad colleagues in trouble. Insiders say this failure to come to the aid and succour of the Islamabad organisers reflects the gap between the progressive and liberal wings of the Aurat March. If this is correct, it will harm women’s solidarity generally, and in future Aurat Marches specifically. After all, it is only in time of trouble that one discovers the difference between real friends and pretenders.

Myanmar’s military coup rolls along killing peaceful protestors freely. How sad that it is left to the defence chiefs of a dozen countries to remind the Myanmar army of the professional duties and behaviour expected of them vis-à-vis peaceful demonstrators. Where are all the political spokesmen of western countries that never tire of lecturing the world about democracy and human rights? What has the so-called international community (which is neither international nor a community except where their vested interests coincide) done in > this regard? A few mealy-mouthed statements and economic sanctions against a Myanmar military-owned company just doesn’t cut it.

The people of Myanmar, whose struggle against a ‘permanent’ military regime since 1962 yielded partial democracy in 2015 after Aung Saan Su Kyi had spent 15 years in detention, returned her party with a bigger majority in this year’s general election. This did not sit well with the Myanmar Generals, who detected a steady draining of the cesspool of military domination if ‘normal’ politics continued. Hence they arrested Aung Saan Su Kyi again on trumped charges of a rigged election, corruption, and what have you. Her whereabouts are so far unknown, but every placard in every demonstration throughout the country carries her visage. Popular leaders loved by the people cannot so easily be wiped out.

Reports say the military is increasingly carrying out a shoot-to-kill policy on the streets against peaceful protestors. Almost 500 have been killed to date, with the UN calculating 107 people, including seven children, among the dead on one day, March 28, 2021, alone. Reports speak of the Karen National Union, one of the country’s largest guerrilla groups, taking up the armed struggle again after the 2015 ceasefire was overtaken by events surrounding the aborted election. Urban protestors are reportedly fleeing to the jungle to acquire training in guerrilla warfare in the face of the unremitting brutality of the military. Myanmar therefore is embarking on the difficult path of armed struggle after all but exhausting peaceful means.

People do not take up arms against the state, risking life and limb, easily. This conjuncture depends entirely on the repressive behaviour of states and their institutions, particularly the military. Myanmar’s departure on this path has profound lessons for all of us.

Four boys’ bodies, aged 13-17 years, were discovered in unmarked graves in Jani Khel, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, about a week ago. They had gone ‘missing’ three weeks ago. The grieving tribesmen of the area, instead of receiving a sympathetic hearing from the authorities, were pressurised to rebury the bodies (and thereby the issue) post haste by officials and clerics. But in the absence of deserved justice, the tribesmen refused to do so. Instead they have overcome barriers on their path and last reports speak of them being camped outside Bannu, where the authorities are not allowing them to carry the dead bodies in a peaceful protest to Islamabad. Enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings have become the norm in our country, from north to south and east to west.

Rashed Rahman, "PDM, Aurat March, Myanmar and all that," Business Recorder. 2021-03-31.
Keywords: Political science , Sessions Courts , Myanmar military , Aurat march , Economic sanctions , Myanmar , PTI

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