Protests over the years in the capital

ByUmair Jalali

Teaches in The Royal Colosseum and is an avid sports fan


June 4, 2022

Protests Over The Years In The Capital

Umair Jalali recollects instances of

Ayub Khan arbitrarily shifted Pakistan’s protests over the years in the capital to Islamabad and one of the reasons he cited was that since Karachi was a port city and its burgeoning population was expected to transform it into a commercial city, therefore, the possibility of frequent public protestations was imminent that may create problems for the country as Karachi was also the capital of the country. He completely brushed aside the decision of the Quaid-e-Azam for naming Karachi as the nation’s capital and had removed a sitting CM of Sindh for opposing his decision thereby putting his huge authority Ayub Khan also ignored the fact that most of the capitals of countries were located on the banks of water and took it to the virtually landlocked Islamabad just because he wanted to operate close to his source of power that happened to be just a stone-throw away.

Ayub Khan’s erroneous decision had made the country to pay a heavy price as Islamabad is still considered to be practically isolated from the mainstream thought-process of the country. Regrettably such alienation is deepening with the passage of time and Islamabad is widely rated to be an aloof town that has little sympathy for rest of the country. To add to the woes is a fact that exactly contrary to the assessment that it would prove to be superbly peaceful capital unaffected by protests of any kind has fallen flat with Islamabad becoming a hub of protests that are virtually unending. This problem remains constant though power changes hands rather frequently and the figures influencing national events also come and go. Interestingly, the fetish to march on the capital is growing by the day as it is considered easy to choke it by cornering the places of governance that are located quite close to each other and there is little populated areas near them.

Ayub Khan himself witnessed crowds chanting slogans against his regime in 1969 compelling him to step down though he was confident that his stay in office will last longer. Since then the protest marches and sit-ins have become a regular feature of Islamabad with their frequency growing exponentially. In the process Islamabad has been converted from a sleepy town to a rowdy city with escalating population facing crime at all hours of the day. The first marked disturbance of peace in the city was experienced just a decade after the fall of Ayub Khan when the Shia community of the country marched on the capital protesting against the imposition of Zakat and Ushr ordinance by the zealous military ruler Zia. The protestors encircled the nerve centre of the government, federal secretariat, and only withdrew after Zia declared them exempt from paying Zakat. This protest virtually opened the floodgates of protests that are now continuing with interruptions for more than four decades.

Islamabad was relatively free from mass protests till the political game of chairs compelled the politicians to make it a target of their ire, anger and frustrations. The obvious reason was political engineering undertaken by the arbitrary forces that pumped up Nawaz Sharif as their bulwark against the so-called security risk PM Benazir Bhutto to march to Islamabad. This march in 1989 was the first political challenge to a political dispensation with the protestors besieging the capital city on the pretext of coming and paying tribute to late General Ziaul Haq. This march was handled pragmatically as the protestors were allowed in without any show of force and dispersed after making some political speeches.

It was quite unexpected that Benazir Bhutto would not pay Nawaz Sharif in kind as their political animosity became personal with the result that she announced a march on Islamabad that caused widespread jitters. Though this march announced for 1990 did not materialise but she persisted and marched on the capital in 1993 that was completely sealed to the discomfiture of its residents but the crisis was defused by the efforts of the then army chief.

There was lull of few years but then Islamabad witnessed one of its serious protests in 2007 with the advent of the lawyer’s movement against the arbitrary measures of the then dictator Gen Musharraf against the then Chief Justice of Pakistan. Musharraf fueled the controversy by imposing emergency that escalated the protests leading to a countrywide long march to the capital under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif but was held in its tracks when the judges were reinstated and the march called off. It was not only national political parties that marched on to the capital but Islamabad attracted the attention of smaller regional groups such as Baloch groups that gathered there to protest against their missing persons. This issue is still alive and there is no apparent solution to it.

The following years witnessed the increase in marches and sit-ins and the first highly disrupting protest of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) that marched from Lahore to Islamabad in 2013 and camped out at Jinnah Avenue near D-Chowk for over four days. That sit-in ended after successful negotiations between the government of the day and the protesters. This highly disrupting event encouraged the PTI to stage a sit-in that proved to be the longest of its kind lasting for a record 126 days badly upsetting the life in the capital. Still a more disruptive sit-in was to come in 2017 that was religiously motivated and was launched by the charismatic Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP)’s leader who accompanied by thousands of his supporters virtually paralysed the capital flagrantly challenging the writ of the government and only ended the siege after 20 days leaving behind a trail of tremendous mayhem and violence.

The government fully aware of the potential devastating effects of marches tried to regulate them and in this context allocated H-9 in Islamabad as the venue for Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F)’s 13-day sit-in against the PTI government in 2019. This was rated as the least disruptive of the sit-ins but exposed the capital to more of such protests. In continuation of its last sit-in the TLP launched the ‘Tahafuz Namoos-i-Risalat’ march to Islamabad in 2021 with situation getting ugly and continuous clashes held between the police and the protestors. This march gave rise to an acrimonious period of tensions between the superior judiciary when one of its judges held some government institutions responsible for this protest. In addition there were sit-ins organised by Balochi activists asking for release of their missing persons. The government employees also staged a sit-in in Islamabad demanding fulfillment of their rights.

This year PPP launched a march towards Islamabad that began from Karachi and finally reached Islamabad protesting against the government of former PM Imran Khan that eventually ended near D-Chowk in Islamabad and the crowds then dispersed. The latest in the long series of marches and sit-ins was the one launched last week by former PM Imran Khan who came down with his adherents from KP and caused quite an alarm for the newly installed government of the political alliance known as PDM. The capital was awestruck by the terror instilled by the well-drilled social media team of PTI but against all expectations the march fizzled out without producing any results. Former PM has now taken some time out and has threatened to march back keeping the anxieties of the hapless residents of the capital alive. TW

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