Pakistan’s political deadlock

Pakistani security forces arrest activists


The Sharif-led government in Pakistan has pushed itself deeper into trouble by resorting to violence against protesters in Islamabad. After several rounds of failed negotiations, the protesters had decided to march towards the Parliament and Prime Minister’s house. However, police blocked their movement by firing teargas and rubber bullets, resulting in injuries to about 300 people and 14 casualties. Before these clashes, the two-week old, massive protests in Pakistan’s federal capital had been peaceful.

With these violent incidents, the political deadlock has now entered a new phase. Tahirul Qadri, a self-styled cleric, and Imran Khan, leader of PTI, are seeking a complete overhaul of the country’s electoral and governance system. In highly charged speeches, they have mocked the “monarchy” of Sharif and ridiculed the existing system for massive corruption, nepotism, and widening the country’s social and income disparity. They remain adamant that the demonstrations will not end till Nawaz Sharif resigns and takes immediate steps for a free and fair election. 

The clashes with demonstrators reflect that the government is now losing patience and ready to take extreme measures to overcome the challenge to its power. The rather unwise move has backfired and eruption of violence against protesters, and media personnel, has been condemned by all political parties in the country. Several examples from history suggest that any true democratic setup that uses brute force against opponents is doomed to fail. The recent Model Town tragedy in Lahore, which claimed over a dozen lives and eventually led to these large sit-in protests by angry PAT supporters, should have served as a useful reminder of how state aggression may trigger a larger fallout. Similarly, on the international front, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Azarov was recently forced to step down from his post after acts of violence only strengthened a wave of opposition against his government. As the protests spread across all corners of Ukraine, the fate of his government was decided on the streets rather than a negotiating table.

As the events continue to unfold in Islamabad, it is difficult to say how things will shape up in Pakistan’s political landscape. Recent weeks have shaken the ordinary man’s perpetual state of apathy toward national politics and created greater political consciousness. With the Model Town case already looming over their heads, the PTI and PAT are certain to press for new criminal offences against the Sharifs in aftermath of these new acts of violence. Violence begets violence, and it is feared that protests against the government may turn ugly in other cities of Pakistan as well. 

Pakistan is not likely to slip into a state of anarchy, though, as government is quickly losing public support and confrontation between different political groups is not on the cards. In case police tries to clamp down on protesters, it may be pitted directly against them and lead to further violence. Police is already one of the most unpopular state institutions in Pakistan because of high political intervention in its affairs. It is often alleged to be used as a personal security force by the ruling elite and, therefore, could face the brunt of protesters seeking a revolution.