Abdul Basit Alvi
Within the fabric of civil liberties, the privilege of engaging in peaceful demonstrations emerges as a foundational element. It symbolizes the collective voice of the populace, the pulse of democracy, and the avenue through which societal reform is not only requested but often realized. Primarily, governments are duty-bound to respect and protect the right to peaceful assembly, as enshrined in various international human rights conventions and articulated in the constitutions of democratic nations. This entails refraining from imposing arbitrary restrictions on protest rights, such as overly stringent permit requirements, excessive delineation of protest-free zones, or disproportionate use of force against demonstrators. Instead, governments should facilitate and safeguard peaceful protests, ensuring that protesters can exercise their democratic rights without fear of harassment, intimidation, or violence. Furthermore, governments must exhibit restraint in their response to public demonstrations, avoiding the use of excessive force or violence unless absolutely necessary and strictly adhering to the principles of necessity and proportionality. The deployment of tear gas, rubber bullets, batons, or other crowd control measures should be carefully regulated and utilized only to the extent required to uphold public order and safeguard lives and property. Any use of force must undergo thorough oversight, be held accountable, and uphold the rights of protesters, including their right to life and physical well-being. Additionally, governments are tasked with ensuring the safety and protection of protesters, bystanders, and law enforcement personnel alike during public demonstrations. This entails implementing sufficient policing and crowd management strategies, guaranteeing access to emergency medical assistance, and safeguarding vulnerable groups such as journalists, human rights advocates, and minority communities from harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. Governments should refrain from arbitrary arrests or detentions of demonstrators and uphold their right to due process and a fair trial in accordance with international human rights norms. Beyond safeguarding the rights and safety of protesters, governments have a responsibility to address the underlying grievances that often spark public demonstrations. The grievances expressed by protesters, whether arising from social injustice, economic disparity, political oppression, or environmental degradation, are indicative of underlying systemic issues necessitating substantial and sustained reform. Governments are called upon to engage in dialogue with protesters, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders, employing transparent and inclusive processes of policy reform, legislative amendment, and institutional restructuring to address these grievances. Moreover, governments should perceive public protests not as challenges to their authority but as opportunities for democratic revitalization and social discourse. By attentively listening to protesters’ concerns, engaging in constructive dialogue, and addressing legitimate grievances, governments can enhance their democratic legitimacy, cultivate trust with citizens, and promote a culture of accountability and transparency. In doing so, they can demonstrate their dedication to upholding democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law, thereby fulfilling their obligation to govern in the best interests of all members of society. Nevertheless, along with the exercise of these rights come responsibilities aimed at ensuring the effectiveness and legitimacy of the protest itself and safeguarding broader democratic principles, peace, and human rights. Therefore, protesters shoulder a vital responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with these principles and contribute constructively to the pursuit of their demands. Chief among protesters’ responsibilities is a commitment to nonviolence and peaceful methods of expression. While the right to protest is inherent in democratic principles, it is crucial that this right is exercised in a manner that respects the rights and safety of others. Violence, destruction, or intimidation not only undermine the legitimacy of the protest but also detract from the central message and risk escalating tensions with law enforcement or opposing demonstrators. By adhering to nonviolent principles, protesters can amplify their message, garner broader public support, and maintain moral integrity in their quest for change. Additionally, protesters have a responsibility to uphold the rule of law and comply with lawful directives from authorities. Although the right to protest encompasses freedom of assembly and dissent, it is not absolute and must be exercised within legal confines. This includes obtaining necessary permits or permissions, adhering to prescribed routes or areas, and refraining from unlawful acts such as obstructing traffic, trespassing on private property, or inciting violence. By respecting legal boundaries, protesters affirm their commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law, while also reducing the likelihood of confrontation with law enforcement. Furthermore, protesters must prioritize the safety and well-being of themselves and their fellow demonstrators. This encompasses taking measures to minimize potential harm, such as maintaining hydration, refraining from confrontations with counter-protesters, and adhering to safety protocols amidst the ongoing pandemic. Furthermore, protesters should remain vigilant in identifying and addressing instances of harassment, discrimination, or violence within their own ranks, ensuring that the protest remains inclusive, respectful, and secure for all participants. Apart from these immediate obligations, protesters also carry a broader responsibility to engage in constructive dialogue and advocacy beyond the confines of the protest itself. While public demonstrations can act as a potent force for change, sustained progress often necessitates ongoing efforts to interact with policymakers, mobilize public support, and institute systemic reforms. This might entail orchestrating lobbying endeavors, advocating for legislative amendments, or participating in community outreach initiatives aimed at tackling the underlying issues prompting the protest. By directing their enthusiasm and commitment towards these broader advocacy endeavors, protesters can amplify the effectiveness of their activism and contribute to meaningful, enduring transformation. In any community, maintaining law and order stands as a cornerstone of stability, guaranteeing the safety, security, and welfare of its inhabitants. At the core of this pivotal function lies the duty of governments to uphold the rule of law, safeguard individual liberties, and preserve societal order amidst challenges and disruptions. As guardians of the social contract, governments bear a solemn obligation to uphold law and order while championing fundamental freedoms and democratic ideals. One of the primary roles of government in maintaining law and order is the enforcement of laws and regulations designed to protect public safety and security. This encompasses preventing and investigating criminal activities, apprehending and prosecuting offenders, and imposing suitable sanctions in accordance with due process and legal norms. By ensuring accountability for criminal behavior, governments deter future transgressions and uphold the principle of impartial justice. Moreover, governments are tasked with providing adequate resources and assistance to law enforcement agencies responsible for maintaining public order and responding to emergencies. This involves furnishing police forces with requisite training, equipment, and personnel to carry out their duties effectively while respecting human rights and minimizing the use of force. Additionally, governments should invest in community policing initiatives aimed at fostering trust, nurturing collaboration, and addressing the underlying socioeconomic factors contributing to crime and disorder. Beyond law enforcement, governments play a pivotal role in tackling the root causes of social unrest and instability. This may entail addressing issues such as poverty, inequality, unemployment, discrimination, and lack of access to education and healthcare, which can engender feelings of disenfranchisement, frustration, and isolation within society. By implementing policies and initiatives aimed at promoting social cohesion, economic opportunity, and inclusive progress, governments can address the underlying grievances that often precipitate civil unrest and mitigate the risk of conflict and disorder. Furthermore, governments have a duty to safeguard the rights and safety of all members of society, including vulnerable and marginalized groups. This involves protecting civil liberties such as freedom of expression, assembly, and association, while also ensuring individuals are shielded from discrimination, harassment, and violence based on factors such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Governments must uphold these rights even in the face of public protests or dissent, ensuring that peaceful demonstrations are allowed to proceed without undue interference or repression. During periods of crisis or emergency, such as natural calamities, public health crises, or acts of terrorism, governments are tasked with showcasing adept leadership and adept coordination to uphold law and order. This might entail mobilizing resources, orchestrating response endeavors, and engaging in transparent, timely communication with the public to safeguard public safety and mitigate disruptions. By exhibiting competence, accountability, and promptness during crises, governments can cultivate confidence and trust among citizens and stakeholders, thus fortifying social unity and resilience. Pakistan, as a responsible and civilized nation, affords its citizens ample opportunity to peacefully protest for their rights, while the government ensures the maintenance of law, order, and security during such demonstrations. In Pakistan’s rugged terrains, where diverse ecosystems flourish with abundant biodiversity and natural splendor, the role of rangers emerges as vital guardians of the wilderness. Entrusted with the dual duty of safeguarding both nature and people, rangers play a crucial role in upholding law and order throughout Pakistan’s expansive wilderness. Amidst the challenges posed by poaching, illegal logging, land invasion, and environmental degradation, rangers stand as frontline defenders, steadfast in their commitment to enforcing the rule of law and conserving the nation’s natural heritage for future generations. At the heart of their mission, rangers are charged with enforcing laws and regulations designed to preserve biodiversity, protect natural resources, and combat wildlife exploitation. This encompasses patrolling protected areas such as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and forest reserves to deter and apprehend poachers, illegal loggers, and other perpetrators of environmental crimes. Through surveillance, intelligence gathering, and law enforcement operations, rangers disrupt illicit activities that threaten Pakistan’s ecological balance and natural landscapes’ integrity. Moreover, rangers play a pivotal role in raising environmental awareness and educating local communities, nurturing a culture of conservation and sustainable resource management. Through outreach initiatives, community engagement programs, and capacity-building workshops, rangers empower communities to become custodians of their natural resources, forging partnerships based on mutual respect, trust, and shared responsibility for environmental protection. By bridging government agencies, civil society organizations, and grassroots communities, rangers promote collaboration and collective action toward environmental sustainability. In addition to their conservation efforts, rangers are entrusted with maintaining law and order in remote and often inaccessible regions of the country. Operating in challenging terrain and conditions, rangers serve as a visible symbol of authority, deterring criminal activities, and providing security to local communities. Whether combating illegal timber smuggling, preventing land encroachment, or responding to natural disasters, rangers exhibit bravery, dedication, and professionalism in the face of adversity, earning the respect and admiration of those they serve. Furthermore, rangers play a crucial role in border security and national defense. Rangers collaborate closely with law enforcement agencies and military units to patrol sensitive border zones, monitor cross-border activities, and intercept the smuggling of illicit goods, weapons, and drugs. Through their vigilant presence along Pakistan’s borders, rangers bolster the nation’s security and sovereignty, fortifying defenses against external threats and upholding the integrity of territorial boundaries. Despite their invaluable service, rangers frequently confront substantial challenges and risks in the execution of their duties. From armed encounters with poachers to encounters with perilous wildlife, rangers operate in environments fraught with tension, where the stakes often involve life and death. Furthermore, inadequate funding, insufficient training, and limited resources present hurdles to effective law enforcement and conservation endeavors, adding further pressure on ranger teams. From countering terrorism to addressing civil unrest and preserving peace in urban centers, the Rangers have frequently been called upon to serve on the front lines of law enforcement, ensuring the safety and security of Pakistan’s populace and safeguarding its borders. Karachi, the country’s largest city and economic nucleus, has long grappled with issues of violent crime, terrorism, and political instability. In response to escalating violence and criminal activities, the Rangers have been deployed to execute targeted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with local law enforcement agencies. Through intelligence-driven raids, search operations, and focused arrests, the Rangers have disrupted terrorist networks, dismantled criminal syndicates, and restored a semblance of peace and security to Karachi’s streets. During periods of civil unrest and political turmoil, the Rangers have been tasked with maintaining peace and order, ensuring public safety, and safeguarding critical infrastructure. Amid protests, riots, or large-scale demonstrations, the Rangers collaborate with local law enforcement agencies to ensure protester safety, prevent violence, and enforce curfews or limitations on public assemblies. By maintaining a visible presence and exercising restraint, the Rangers aid in de-escalating tensions and reinstating normalcy in affected areas. As Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad serves as a focal point for political engagements, diplomatic missions, and governmental functions. To ensure the security of sensitive installations and diplomatic compounds, the Pakistan Rangers have been deployed to carry out security operations, perimeter patrols, and surveillance activities. Through upholding a secure environment, the Rangers contribute to the efficient functioning of governmental operations and diplomatic relations in the capital. Turning to recent events in AJK, the formation of the Awami Action Committee several months ago aimed to address public grievances in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Their key demands included subsidies on flour, electricity priced at production rates, and the cessation of privileges for the elite. To advocate for these demands, the Awami Action Committee announced a long march to Muzaffarabad. Acting responsibly, the AJK government effectively managed the situation. Government representatives engaged in negotiations with protest march leaders in Rawalakot, ultimately agreeing to all demands and issuing an official notification. It was decided that the long march would not progress beyond Kohala. In anticipation of potential emergencies and security concerns, the AJK government regularly calls upon Civil Armed Forces (FC & Rangers). In this scenario, the AJK government made a request for 2,000 Ranger troops to serve as a secondary security line for vital state symbols such as the Parliament building, Judicial Complex, and government offices. As per the negotiated agreement, the AJK government displayed restraint by maintaining 300-400 Ranger troops on standby instead of deploying them, hoping that the Awami Action Committee would adhere to the agreement. Regrettably, the committee failed to prevent anarchist elements from infiltrating the march, resulting in adverse consequences. When these elements breached the agreement by advancing beyond Kohala, Rangers were mobilized. To avoid direct confrontation, the AJK government redirected the Rangers, ensuring an unobstructed route from Kohala to Muzaffarabad for the long march. However, the anarchist elements assaulted the Rangers by pelting stones, setting fire to two Ranger vehicles, and firing upon them, causing injuries. Despite being under attack, the Rangers exercised restraint, resorting only to gas shells and rubber bullets, refraining from live ammunition to prevent fatalities. It’s evident that the escalation was incited by these anarchist elements, not the Rangers. Three civilians lost their lives due to the firing by these elements, not the Rangers. The deployment of Rangers was primarily to safeguard government structures and state symbols, yet they became targets of these elements bent on disrupting AJK’s tranquility. The responsibility for the escalation lies with the leadership of the Awami Action Committee, who permitted these elements to violate the agreement and instigate violence. While government and law enforcement agencies diligently fulfilled their duties and endeavored to prevent violence at a higher level, the management of protests failed to ensure their peaceful conduct and remove violent elements from their midst. The people of Pakistan and AJK strongly condemn the killing of a police sub-inspector in Mirpur Division, the attack on Ranger vehicles, and the arson. Notably, these vehicles were set ablaze near Barar Kot, not in Muzaffarabad, indicating that the attacks were not a direct response to Ranger actions. The breach of the agreement and subsequent violence were orchestrated by anarchist elements within the Awami Action Committee. The people of AJK are aware of these malevolent intentions and reject the false propaganda. They value peace and stability and distance themselves from these disruptive elements. The populace insists on a comprehensive inquiry into the incident and the imposition of strict legal measures against the anarchist elements who attempted to disrupt AJK’s peaceful environment. This same group of anarchists and their associates are disseminating misinformation and fostering hatred against the State, country, and Armed Forces on social media. These anti-state factions aim to sow discord within the State, and the people of AJK vehemently denounce their reprehensible deeds. Now that the Awami Action Committee’s demands have been met and the agreement is being implemented, we’re witnessing a noticeable decrease in commodity prices. Therefore, the intermittent threats of further protests from the Awami Action Committee lack moral justification. These individuals seem intent on jeopardizing the region’s tourism, employment opportunities, and overall peace for their own gain. It’s crucial to recognize that the disruptive elements within the Awami Action Committee don’t reflect the sentiments of the majority of Azad Kashmir’s population. The people of Azad Kashmir highly value peace, Pakistan, the Pakistan Army, and the state. They vehemently oppose any actions that undermine these foundational aspects of society.

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