No lessons learnt from the Model Town tragedy


WEB DESK: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while talking to the media in Sahiwal, accused the protesting Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) staff of having the backing of political parties which, he argued, was the reason behind the 100 million rupee loss per day.

Nawaz Sharif further reaffirmed what was earlier stated by the Minister of Information Pervez Rashid, that subsequent to the passage of the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act, the protesters would lose their jobs. The objective, the Prime Minister added, was to improve the performance of the airline. While initially the government appeared to be succeeding in breaking the strike with the pilots association agreeing to fly the planes on schedule yet the pilots’ cooperation was, explicably withdrawn after the deaths of two protesters in Karachi.

What is inexplicable and extremely disturbing is the fact that neither the Prime Minister nor his office deemed it appropriate to express remorse at the deaths of the two PIA staffers on Tuesday. However much, Business Recorder may support the government in its drive to privatise PIA to turn around and agree with the Prime Minister that most state-run entities are overstaffed by loyalists of political parties, yet no support can be extended to subjecting protesters to gun shots.

The Sindh government has already announced compensation packages for the victims’ families (the two murdered in broad daylight as well as many injured) but the trend to set a price for victims of state actions that lead to casualties/internal displacement has become commonplace in our country. Till now the bulk of such compensation payments were made to those who were affected by the ongoing war on terror in various parts of the country. Thus the announcement by the Sindh government is certainly a deviation from past practice where the Rangers and not the police have been accused of involvement in the two deaths. The leader of the protesters maintains that he has the footage to prove that someone in a ranger’s uniform but masking his face fired the fatal shots. The Rangers have denied that any of their staff took this dastardly action but there is no doubt that an impartial investigation needs to be carried out on an emergent basis to determine the true facts.

The Sindh police, not known for engaging in bipartisan investigations, has the bullet casings in its custody and has vowed to investigate the deaths. Elements opposed to the PPP argue that this may provide an opportunity to the ruling party in Sindh to down play the successes of Rangers in bringing a modicum of peace in Karachi. This may, in their view, be used to strengthen their arguments for limiting the powers and the Sindh Assembly resolution to that effect as well as the possible role of the federal government in the deaths. Others argue that if Rangers are indeed responsible, the result of the investigation would, if past precedence is anything to go by, remain inconclusive. These are disturbing factors that unfortunately have marred the outcome of several investigations in this country.

Be that as it may, the way to break a planned and announced protest is not through the use of brute force as evident in Karachi but through other measures. If negotiations had failed and if indeed the protesters had refused to accept the government’s reasonable offer namely to delay the privatisation process for six months, perhaps a better option would have been to take the leaders of the protest into protective custody and make a serious effort to negotiate with them. As matters stand today the objective of the government to break the strike through strong arm measures has severely discredited the government. The opposition has requisitioned a session of the parliament on this issue where members are bound to recall the blood bath in Model Town, Lahore, a tragedy from which, as is obvious, no lessons were learnt.

Source: Business Recorder