Protest turns violent

Supporters of the PTI and the PML-N confront in Faisalabad.—Online

 

THE disturbing violence in Faisalabad on Monday marks a change in the PTI’s profile. Despite the events of Aug 30 and Sept 1, the party had, generally speaking, not shown a predilection for the politics of violence.

But now, the rioting and confrontation in the industrial city should entail some serious thinking on the part of the PTI, while the PML-N needs to do much better than play victim to an unreasonable opponent’s desperate assaults.

It has been observed frequently that the ruling party must shun any strategy that brings it face to face with the protesters on the street. That advice was not heeded on Monday, resulting in at least one fatality as supporters of the two parties clashed.

Also read: PTI calls for countrywide day of mourning after activist killed in Faisalabad

The government is inclined to put down the unrest to a grand design aimed at destablising the whole system, and may continue with that refrain. In reality, what the government side has done or not done in the wake of the poll-rigging allegations is an example of how not to deal with a situation as volatile as this.

To many Pakistanis, the PTI is a party that has evolved its policy in reaction to the government’s constant denial of its demands.

PTI chief Imran Khan’s argument is that he has been pushed into pressing harder since he originally wanted the opening up of just four constituencies in which he suspected that large-scale fraud had taken place during the 2013 general election.

There is, in fact, a valid view that notes that Mr Khan has climbed down from his position where he had demanded the prime minister’s resignation. This has lent some balance to his protest, and should have led both sides to rediscovering the path to an agreement through dialogue.

It is unfortunate that despite this important adjustment one side is still out in the streets protesting and the other is tackling it as if it were a simple administrative matter.

In some analyses, the government has been cast as a helpless entity which could do itself grave harm if it were to allow the inspection of the disputed electoral process.

Whereas the contention in itself is revealing and raises further doubts about the conduct of that election, what needs to be kept in mind is that the PML-N government did at one point agree to a probe of the polls by a judicial commission. That was a promise made to Pakistanis at large and not just to the PTI which was only the vehicle of presenting a widespread sentiment — in fact, most political parties had complained about the way the election was organised.

The PTI has planned more shows of street power in Karachi and Lahore before its scheduled Pakistan-wide protest later in the month. The government will be playing with fire if it does not go all out in an attempt to revive talks with Mr Khan.

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