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Wednesday, June 19, 2019 08:05:32 PM
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In Search Of Naya Pakistan

But Neither Govt Nor Opposition Ready To Pay!

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02nd-Jun-2019       
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Asha'ar Rehman :
Pakistanis like to describe the times they are living in as tense. Still, some stretches are more tense than others. Such as the period we are going through right now. It is marked by more than the dread of the schoolmaster in a fear-stalked classroom.
There are just too many agitators around and those dealing with them are way too harsh for their own good and for the general good of the country. It seems that it has been decided to deal with everyone - from former Fata to the plains of Punjab and Sindh - with the sternest of hands and the signs are that the official response may just get angrier and angrier as the sloganeers go a few notches higher with their calls.
Conspiracies are back big time. One statement by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is enough to qualify him as a co-conspirator alongside Mohsin Dawar, a man already placed in the company of traitors. And Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is the pivot here as he is the man who is credited with helping Ms Maryam Nawaz Sharif of Lahore find her lost voice.
Only a few weeks ago, the same PPP leader appeared to so many to be incapable of drawing serious notice of the people who matter, mainly because he was believed to be so heavily burdened by the image and advice of his father. The reputation and advice may still be there, but the BBZ campaign seems to show some promise now.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari anticipates a dire post-Eid period. It could be that he and his associates in the party are anticipating the arrest of his father. Maybe, they think that there's going to be a big crackdown against PPP workers.
Whatever scenarios the PPP Chairman may have in his mind, he has decided that he is not going to be hostile towards, or even aloof from, some of the happenings the so-called mainstream Pakistani politicians have traditionally kept a distance from. What's more, he appears to have found a relatively reliable way of not immediately condemning controversial politicians such as Mohsin Dawar. Here he follows and advocates an approach that goes through parliament.
The other side needed to be dispassionate in its reaction to the PPP's lines if the idea was to thwart Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari's attempt at building some kind of a platform to launch what is routinely called his 'Abu bachao' movement. Restraint has typically been lacking; hence, one of the most dangerous themes of the discussion in recent days has been the one that unnecessarily, if not belatedly and vainly, asks for proof of patriotism from the members of the country's legislature.
The tough handling of PPP workers on the occasion of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari's appearance in a case in Islamabad on Wednesday did revive some old impressions. One of them was that the PPP even in its current weakened state can still conjure up images to rekindle memories of itself as a party of the street. And two, the government doesn't mind giving the BBZ-brigade-in-the-building a helping hand along the way. The PPP's intention here is clear to all and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari appeared to be satisfied with the day's work as that evening he sat breaking fast with the workers fresh from their encounter with the police.
It is said that some areas are more sensitive than others and the administration couldn't quite take the risk of allowing too much liberty to PPP protesters. This may be true to a large extent as we all know that special security arrangements are usually put in place to deal with protests in the capital. But there are other, more permanent, justifications for using force to quell a street protest.
Over and above other reasons, those using force to smother a protest are almost always moved by the belief that they were dealing with a limited opposition that will soon run out of steam. Government after government in Pakistan has found out to its dismay how untrue these initial estimates about the strength - or weakness - of a rally could turn out to be. Yet even those who claim to be building a new Pakistan, and those who have come to power on the back of a long-drawn-out protest, refuse to learn.
This brings us to the bit about how just or not a protest is. The PTI government says the protest being built up by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Ms Maryam Nawaz and others is going to die a natural, early death since, unlike Mr Imran Khan's sit-in of a few years ago, it champions a wrong, false cause. This in turn, the logic indicates, justifies the strong-arm tactics to crush the opposition by these children of dynasty.
The supposition is that since their cause lacks the essential element of popular unrest, even a forcible gagging of the privileged Maryams and Bilawals would not get them any massive sympathy. That in itself is a false reassurance that could cost some important people dearly. First, there's clear evidence to confirm that the PML-N (in Punjab in particular) and PPP (in Sindh) enjoy considerable popular support which they can demonstrate progressively as the protest heats up. Not just that, the people have their own everyday grievances that could encourage them to join a procession that allows them an opportunity to lambaste the rulers to their heart's content.
The strategy makers of the PPP and PML-N cannot be blamed for hoping that once they begin their promised movement ('save Abu'), they are going to be joined by a large number of people who cannot quite reconcile themselves to the huge price - in terms of the cost of living etc - the current government is asking them to pay in search of the naya Pakistan. As they tick the pros and cons boxes on the list, these opposition parties may be more wary of factors such as the hot weather acting as an impediment here. One thing is for sure -they have a 'sufficiently' hostile government in place.

(Asha'ar Rehman, Resident Editor of Dawn, Lahore)

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