Opinion: ‘Crackdown’ that may help ‘lockdown’

WEB DESK: How politically self-damaging is PML-N’s strategy of cracking down on PTI, AML, and PML-Q activists days before these parties’ promised lockdown of Islamabad, depends on what happens on November 2, but events witnessed till this piece went for publication, especially Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) order to lift the unlawful siege around Imran Khan’s Banigala residence, don’t augur well for the PML-N.

Beginning October 27, by blocking all roads leading to Islamabad and Rawalpindi using loaded as well as empty cargo containers and the vehicles they were loaded on, the PML-N regime did what the protestors could have done. According to Karachi Goods Carriers Association, hundreds of containers, instead of being transported from Karachi’s ports, were being used to block highways.

Small supply trucks too were detained to block roads thereby paralysing the supply mechanism which was causing goods’ shortage up country, inflating their prices, and causing colossal losses, especially to buyers and suppliers of perishable items. Above all, this PML-N strategy was hampering exports that have continuously been declining for the past three years.

In the Punjab, containers carrying export cargoes were being used to block roads preventing their timely loading on specific vessels in compliance with the terms of export contracts executed with buyers abroad, and leading to cancellation of export orders or imposition of heavy penalties for late shipment, or blacklisting of exports due to such failures.

In accordance with the IHC order, FPCCI had urged the Interior Ministry not to detain cargo-loaded vehicles en route to and from Karachi for blocking roads leading to Islamabad, but only after a serving Lieutenant Colonel died while trying to find a passage for his vehicle through the containers, some of the Peshawar-Islamabad routes were de-blocked.

While the KPK Chief Minister’s terming of blocking of the Peshawar-Islamabad road network as a federation-breaking step reflected irresponsibility, the PML-N leadership’s repeated blaming of PTI activists coming from KPK as terrorists is both provocative and divisive – a federation-damaging campaign that the self-proclaimed patriotic PML-N regime doesn’t bother about.

Because highways have been blocked not just by cargo containers but tons of concrete and sand, re-opening them will take time. Will the huge financial losses (let alone reputational losses)being suffered by traders, importers, exporters and transporters, courtesy highway-blocking, be accepted as genuine by the FBR when these entities file their tax returns?

The odd PML-N regime response to the PTI, AML, and PML-Q threat to lockdown Islamabad shows how scared is the regime about its accountability. If, as claimed by the Prime Minister, Chief Minister Punjab, and other PML-N spokespersons, the regime hasn’t committed any act of dishonesty, why is it so scared of those demanding the regime’s accountability?

Instead, the regime seems determined to achieve an unenviable objective – critics questioning its integrity based on evidence provided by the Panama Leaks, reports of the Auditor General of Pakistan, and non-disclosure of the JIT on the Model Town Tragedy, be made to appear elements out to destabilise Pakistan, and justify dealing with them ruthlessly.

Islamabad Deputy Commissioner’s decision to force the closure of a Marquee on Margalla Road shortly before a pre-announced PTI Youth Convention was to be held there, ensured that its participants ended up gathering in the parking area facing the marquee, and justified a crackdown on them and their arrest for violating Section 144 – actions that led to protests in several other cities.

This crackdown was carried out without establishing whether the convention was going to incite lawlessness to justify imposing Section 144 on its participants; frustrating the participants and cracking down on them was intended to create the impression that they(less than 500 in number, hardly enough to pose a threat) deserved the treatment they received.

October 28 witnessed a more reckless show of power by the government. In the crackdown on PTI, AML, activists in Banigala and near Lal Haveli in Rawalpindi, telecast live on TV channels, showed that each activist (including women) was thrashed by three to four policemen, and then pushed into police vans for being taken to police stations where they were locked-up.

Ironically, on October 28, while in Rawalpindi PTI and AML workers were being thrashed by the police, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) – a proscribed group – was permitted to organize a rally in the heart of Islamabad. Was letting this proscribed group hold its rally intended to suggest that PTI, AML, and PML-Q are more dangerous parties than ASWJ?

This laxity for ASWJ was shown by a regime that blames ‘you know who’ for being soft on proscribed groups. Yet the regime eventually had to sack the federal minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage for “lapse” of his responsibilities in the context of publication of the October 6 news report in Dawn – action that put the regime’s own role in doubt.

Despite repeatedly issuing clarifications that the content of this news report are half-truths, fabricated, and false, the fact that on this issue the regime had to sack a federal minister and place some senior bureaucrats on the ECL for possibly leaking, feeding, or planting this story, has compounded doubts about the regime’s repeatedly touted patriotism and integrity.

The Supreme Court’s welcome decision to hear the petitions (earlier classified as “frivolous by the Supreme Court’s Registrar) demanding the accountability of the Prime Minister, his family members, and at least one federal minister – issue that led to the ongoing “crackdown” and PTI’s threatened “lockdown” – could escalate the mounting threats the regime confronts.

The regime could have avoided these self-created miseries had the Prime Minister (PM) offered himself for accountability on the Panama Leaks, and silenced his critics by presenting irrefutable evidence of the sources of the wealth he and his family accumulated over the decades. Instead, opting for bamboozling his critics has only added fuel to the fire.

This flawed strategy strengthens the view that the wealth the PM and his family members now own isn’t clean, and, besides several political parties not aligned to PTI, now even the PPP has promised a country-wide anti-regime campaign if its demand for the PM’s accountability is not met. Credit for triggering this seemingly unconfrontable threat goes to the PM’s advisors.

The most worrisome aspect of this chaos is Pakistan being seen as politically volatile and state policies and administration being unstable – perception that will dilute investor confidence and constrain the inflow of FDI that, without doubt, is Pakistan’s most crucial need, given the burden of external debt it has been lumbered with by the PML-N regime.

But our political leadership doesn’t realise that it is time for stability-assuring measures including tough accountability, not crackdowns, lockdowns and country-wide unrest.

Source: Business Recorder