Dharna politics in Pakistan: A historical review

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Asadullah Mahesar
Protests and Marches are the essential parts of human rights in democratic societies,and it is the only way through which people can achieve to accomplish their legitimate rights. Thereafter the casting of votes in elections, protest is the only power to demand their rights. Political instability in Pakistan is based on two major factors: identity and legitimacy crisis. Pakistan has faced both crises since its independence, first identity crisis emerged in East Pakistan after the 1965 war, resultantly East Pakistan became an independent state in 1971. This identity crisis is being observed nowadays in all provinces of Pakistan except Punjab. Whereas the legitimacy crisis also affected Pakistan’s political system and these agitations have been faced by both civilian and military governments. Hence,some demonstrated agitations to break or make the governments and some invite the military to intervene in civilian affairs. The first-ever agitation was started in 1949 by Majlis-e-Ahrar to urge the government by declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslim. This street violence spread throughout the country in 1953 that was concluded with the imposition of martial law in several cities of Pakistan. Then, the first architect of martial law, Ayyub Khan, confronted a huge mass protest by the national student federation in early October 1968 when he was celebrating the decade of development. The protest was intensified after a clash erupted between students and police during the protest in Rawalpindi in November 1968 in which three students died. Additionally, the Awami League of Shaikh Mujeeb demanded full provincial autonomy in East Pakistan. Finally, Khan resigned from the government and handed over the power to Yahaya Khan in March 1969. The first time the allegations of rigging in the election were accused by a coalition of nine political parties called Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) against ZA Bhutto in 1977. The PNA demanded anew fresh election and the implementation of ”Nizam e Mustafa”. Thus, Bhutto somehow agreed to these demands, but the political chaos could not be controlled which created an interstice for military intervention subsequently, the third martial law was imposed in July 1977 by General Zia. Another mass movement started by PPP in 1981 against Zia. The movement was formed by a coalition of eleven political parties called the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD).It was extended in 1983 throughout the country furthermore, the alliance parties did not participate in the presidential referendum of 1984 and the elections of 1985. It was considered the largest non-violence movement after Gandhi’s. Moreover, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was sacked by Musharraf in March 2007 when he challenged the dual role of Musharraf as president and army chief of Pakistan.Then the people from all walks of life particularly lawyers dissented from this decision. Thus, a nationwide movement began by the lawyers in the name of the Movement for Restoration of Judiciary (MRJ) against Musharraf. The situation became worst when Musharraf impose the emergency in November 2007 and sacked all the Supreme and High Court judges and proclaimed the Provincial Constitutional Order (PCO). Besides, the judges had been compelled to take a new oath on this PCO, but most of the judges repudiated to take the oath. Hence, Musharraf resigned from power and a new government was formed in 2008 by PPP. Thereafter the restoration of democracy, the PPP government was not ready to restore the judiciary eventually, the lawyers again launched a ‘Long March’ against the civilian government to restore the judiciary. Finally, the Long March succeeded, and the judiciary was reinstated in March 2009. Likewise, the recent decade has a colourful history of such demonstrations. Similarly, Imran Khan’s PTI accepted the results of the general elections of 2013 and demanded the investigation of four national assembly constituencies. However, the PML-N government did not concentrate on the demands of Khan consequently, he launched the ”Azadi March” along with Maulana Tahir-ul Qadri’s ”Inqilab March” in August 2014 against the government. The PTI’s dharna was the longest sit-in in the political history of Pakistan that lasted for 126 days consecutively. Moreover, this longest political turmoil put Pakistan in an economic crisis that lost 6 billion USD. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) organized a series of dharnas to fulfill their demands in 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2021 against the PML-N and PTI governments respectively. Whereas another dharna was launched by Maulana Fazalur Rehman in early October 2019 against PTI’s government. But Maulana’s Azadi March could not sustain for a long time because of the half-hearted support from the mainstream political parties; PPP and PML-N. Additionally, the PTI government again faced a huge mass protest in the name of ”MehngaiMukao March” in March 2022 organized by PML-N. These political agitations have always fetched disturbances to ordinary masses as well as weak the ruling government and created political instability. Therefore, we should have to modify this political tool to facilitate the masses instead of overemphasizing such activities which do not have public prosperity.

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