I, like tens of thousands of others, commute from Rawalpindi to Islamabad for work every day. Every day, I make my way through the hustle and bustle of heavy traffic to get to work on time; to meet my deadlines; to be productive. Men and women, old and young, some on their own vehicles, others on public transport, irrespective of whether it is raining or scorching heat, need to commute daily. We all need to get to our offices to do our work, to make a living. We need free movement to perform our lives as normal humans, to perform domestic chores, to function with optimum efficacy. Alas, far too often, our lives are disturbed as a result of political agitations that are neither peaceful nor civilized. While, right to assemble peacefully, without arms is our constitutional right, far too often we fail to realize that it also has to be taken into consideration that public order is not disturbed. The essence of peaceful assembly, which is clearly a legitimate method of political agitation – is to get the point across to those in the realms of power- the policy makers. Not in any way is any assembly permissible that creates hurdles for the citizens and deteriorates the quality of public life by curtailing free movement and causing panic.
As a daily traveler between the twin-cities, I have faced testing times where my freedoms have been violated by, not peaceful, but, violent assembly of politically motivated workers of various parties. Disruption of public order and rejection of state directives is, far too often, a common sight. Scuffles between law enforcement agencies and enraged political workers and destruction of public property for no good reason during protests are frequent incidents that we witness and hear about in the news.
We need to recognize that we have blurred the distinctive line between peaceful agitation and violent protests. The nature of the violence is such that it not only has the ability to damage individuals physically, but also carries a high potential to inflict economic loss and damage our social fabric. When public order is disrupted by a political group through violent agitation that has no regard for the maintenance of public order and public interest, it must be rejected and not supported by the public.
There is ample space in every city to organize political protests in a peaceful manner. Sports stadiums, parade grounds and several other public spaces can be utilized by political parties to limelight their demands and register their voice on the media. Compliance with state directives on how to go about with the protest must be followed in the best interest of the public at large. Noncompliance with state agencies’ directives and disrupting public order, depicts a political party’s weakness with respect to respecting rule of law and demonstrates its lack of empathy to the interests of the people.
If people can’t move freely due to political agitation and road blockades, their livelihoods are directly affected, children can’t go to educational institutions, economic activity declines, patients can’t get to hospitals – everything comes down to a halt. You become a prisoner in a free country. Why should citizens buy such nuisance under the guise of right to peaceful protest? Why should societal freedom of movement be curtailed and public order deteriorated for the interest of some specific few? All of us want a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan, but we can only get it if we act in responsible and civilized manner. Unless political parties demonstrate respect for constitution and a high regard for rule of law, especially during political agitations, we cannot expect them to be a worthy custodian of the rights and liberties of the people of Pakistan.