Social and political unrest in Pakistan

Some of the local and international organizations have warned of social and political unrest due to food insecurity and militancy in Pakistan, a country that had been in the state of war with terrorists for over a decade while most of its districts were hit by floods for two consecutive years – first in 2010 when there was deluge caused by rivers and again by torrential monsoon rains in 2011 displacing millions of people. 

Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and United States Institute for peace (USIP) in a jointly organized session with parliamentarians recently discussed minutely the “relationship between food insecurity, poverty, extremism and conflict.”

During the meeting it was noted that the country was facing policy led insecurities, and that there are four dimensions to food insecurity being individual, national, regional, and global one which all were interlinked.  

The SDPI had also released a report titled “Food Insecurity Report: Pakistan”, which comes up with substantial evidence that inter and intra provincial disparities exist in terms of food security.

Some of the participants opined that Pakistan is facing a governance crisis rather than food crisis. They was of the view that clear vision, efficient policies and better management at government level can address the food scarcity in country.

The President of International Red Cross Federation has also warned of social unrest in Pakistan, similar to the popular uprising in Tunisia and Egypt.

Tataderu Konoe, in a recent statement says there is a risk of political turmoil in districts of Pakistan devastated by last year’s floods. He said political and social turbulence in Pakistan is spreading rapidly and regime of President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, is under threat because of unrest in the country.

Contrary to the apprehensions, expressed by these organizations, the rulers claim self-sufficiency and brush aside the apprehensions of social unrest due to food insecurity. “There is no food insecurity in Pakistan, as despite floods for two consecutive years, we have reaped bumper wheat crops and the country is in position to export the wheat,” Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani had categorically stated in an interview to an Arab TV channel recently. 

Whatever may be the apprehensions of different organizations or the claims of the government, all these views in fact are restricted mainly to food insecurity or to some extent to poverty and extremism, and do not cover a number of other aspects and the causes behind the social unrest in Pakistan. Someone at a meeting, mentioned above, rightly linked the social and political unrest to the policy-led and governance crisis.

The fact that social and political unrest in Pakistan is linked to policy-led and governance crisis, could be judged from the transport and business strikes during which the life comes to standstill, the hunger strikes, demonstrations and rallies taking place daily across the country to lodge protest against the government’s policies and the way it governs the country that has multiplied the problems of masses.

According to a survey, based on print and electronic media reports, on an average 300 agitation activities take place every day in different cities and towns by the people of different walks of life including government employees, factory workers, health workers, students, teachers, peasants, political workers etc. demanding resolution of their problems. This way, 9000 such demonstrations, rallies and hunger strikes take place in a month and not a single day of the year passes without these protests.

The problems, the people are agitating for, include unemployment, retrenchment of already employed people, regularization of services of those working on contract since years, non-payment of salaries to those contractual workers since many months and even non-payment of salaries to permanent employees of government, water shortage for drinking and irrigation purpose in cities, towns and villages, prolonged suspension of electricity supply, suspension of gas supply, price hike of essential commodities, frequent increase in petroleum and gas tariff, increase in public transport fares, law & order situation, robberies, snatching/stealing bikes, cars, cash and cell phones, kidnapping of industrialists/traders for ransom, child abduction, extortion of money from traders, target killings, sectarian killings and many other such problems. Even the official data of crime released by the government every year paint a very horrible picture.

Besides this, political rallies by different parties and organizations against the America and its allies have also become order of the day to show anger over drone attacks by NATO forces and the US intervention in the internal affairs of Pakistan. The political and religious parties have been blaming the government of toeing the policies of IMF, WB and USA under their pressure thus making the life miserable of poor Pakistanis.

This unrest is not the recent development but its roots could be traced back since inception of Pakistan in 1947. The intelligentsia of the country believes that since the successive governments, either civilian or the military one, didn’t frame internal as well as external policies on their own keeping in view the interests of country and wellbeing of citizens, and instead followed the dictations given by foreign powers, there had been discontentment from the day one. There had been no consistency in the policies of rulers because of lack of political will and many other reasons.

The deterioration in every sector grew faster with each passing day, month and the year and today when the country is governed by a so-called democratic government, there is no sign of any let up in miseries of people making them to take to street. 

Since the media, print as well as electronic, is very much vibrant in Pakistan, it is a great source of solace for the agitating people, who in order to ventilate their anger take out rallies and stage demonstrations or observe hunger strikes outside the press clubs, which exist almost in every city and town of country. The media persons use to be present at the press clubs all the time and report the agitations swiftly to their respective media houses.

In bigger cities, especially in provincial capitals and the federal capital, the protesters gather at the press clubs and start marching towards Governors’ and Chief Ministers’ houses, and the provincial assembly buildings in provinces and towards Presidency, Prime Minister’s House and Parliament building in federal capital, which have been declared Red Zones by the government for want of security. Whenever, the protesters attempt to march towards Red Zone, the police come into action and start firing tear gas shells, using water-canons and baton charging the protesters to disperse them.

All the political parties including Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI – a religious-political party),  Mutehida Qaumi Movement (MQM – a party of Urdu speaking people who migrated from India), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q- a party that was ally of former military ruler Gen. Musharraf) and some other small groups, who currently rule the country through coalition, have earned bad name for their corruption scandals.

They all had joined hands and are sharing power under ‘National Reconciliation Policy’. A faction of Pakistan Muslim League, led by former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and known as PML-N, had also shared power at federal level but parted ways and focused its government in Punjab, the biggest province of country, where it was in majority in the provincial assembly. Interestingly, the PML-N and the PPP (The majority party at federal level) are in coalition in Punjab. This way there is no opposition party in Pakistan and all the political parties were jointly plundering the national wealth.

But despite being in power and partners in plunder, all the parties are pulling each other’s legs. Such a situation has led to political crisis. The crisis further deteriorated due to main ruling party PPP’s differences with judiciary and the military. Amidst such social and political crisis, Imran Khan, a former Captain of Pakistan cricket team, who heads Tehreek-e-Insaf (Justice Movement), raised slogan of revolution and rallied all over country to mobilize mass support for tumbling down present setup, but couldn’t succeed so far.

Although, the masses are fed up of corruption and wrong doings of present rulers (All coalition partners) as well as so-called opposition parties, and are agitating for a change in real sense, to get rid of corruption and resolve problems of poverty, hunger, unemployment, inflation etc. but they have no dynamic and sincere leadership that could steer the country and nation out of these crisis.

The nation is heading towards saturation point and it might be that Tunisia and Egypt-like situation develops here leading to massive peoples’ uprising.

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