PESHAWAR: People of NWFP were taken by surprise when the Awami National Party-led coalition government imposed Section 144 in entire province and launched a massive crackdown on lawyers, leaders and workers of the political parties supporting the long march.
The action was taken by the ANP-led government, which has a history of respecting democratic norms and supporting political struggle in the country. The arrests, that started in early hours of Friday astonished the political workers and legal fraternity as just a day ago NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti had pledged not to stop the marchers. In a chat with the media, he, however, had said the government would initiate action if any law and order situation was created.
The chief minister’s statement was well received by media, intelligentsia and democratic forces, but the appreciation lasted for a few hours due to government’s decision to take on lawyers and political workers.
Every person was surprised as to what happened overnight that changed the mind of the ANP government to impose Section 144. If one believes the chief minister’s assertion, the pro-long march folks had not created any law and order issue for the government, already under pressure due to militancy in parts of the province, but it cracked down on the would-be marchers.
Interestingly, the NWFP Senior Minister and ANP leader Bashir Bilour distanced his party from the action taken by the provincial administration. Talking to media in provincial assembly, the ANP leader said that his party was against such undemocratic steps. He insisted the ‘establishment’ to defame the democratic government launched the crackdown.
Bashir said ANP believed in peaceful struggle and considered it a genuine right of the people. He said instead of creating hurdles, the ANP wanted to facilitate the protestors. However, the reality was quite contrary to the claims made by two bigwigs of the provincial government.
The excuse made by the senior minister has aroused a serious question as to who was running the affairs of the province-political government or ‘establishment’. It was hard to believe that the NWFP home secretary or district coordination officer of the respective districts could take the action without prior approval from the government. Second, which was that strong power that even did not bother to consult the provincial government before making such a unpopular decision?
The word ‘establishment’ is quite notorious and has always been used by governments for putting any blame for failure on the unseen and undefined entity. Analysts say that if the ANP could not control the provincial bureaucracy and is so helpless before ‘establishment’ then how it would protect the peace agreement signed with Sufi Mohammad of Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-e-Mohammadi. The ANP’s leaders have been accusing the ‘establishment’ of tarnishing the image of democratic forces.
The party workers also showed their dismay over the decision, as they did not want ANP to support Asif Ali Zardari in his tussle with the legal fraternity. If the provincial government did not release the arrested people and stop the protesters to march into Islamabad, it will not be in a position to defend the party being the one that believes in genuine democratic struggle.