PTI Failed To Uphold Civil Liberties In Its First Year
Syed Saad writes that in its first year in the government, PTI has obstructed civil liberties and has engaged in measures detrimental to the cohesion of the federation.
With Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) completing a year in government, the revolution and ‘change’ we were promised still eludes us. Instead of the economy that was supposed to emulate the performance of an Asian Tiger and a state that was to be as virtuous as ‘Madina ki Riyasat’, we are witnessing a nose-diving economy. And the new legislators of the ruling party are just as incompetent as their predecessors whom they so vehemently criticised.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the first anniversary of PTI’s term at the national level was marked by social media trends lamenting the party’s performance with the hashtag ‘TabahiKaAikSaal’ (One year of destruction). But is this criticism justified?
In all honesty, a fragile economy like ours, prone to foreign shocks and suffering from deplorable decision making for years will take time to stabilise. And a society where elected parliamentarians claim their right to corruption on live television will surely take time to become the 1400 year old ‘riyasat’ envisioned by Khan.
So, to be fair, let us not talk of these things and let us focus on the more essential things; our democracy and the status of our federation. Let us review how PTI’s actions have turned out for the democratic structure of our polity and how its behaviour has affected the plurality and cohesiveness of our federation.
Let’s begin with analysing PTI’s interactions with political and non-political actors to gauge how favourable its time in power has been for the betterment of the federation that it is leading. In this regard, it is important to put under scrutiny PTI’s relationship with the Balochistan National Party (Mengal). Following the elections of 2018, the BNP-M agreed to support PTI at the national level in exchange for the latter agreeing to its ‘Six Points’ which aimed at redressing the grievances of the people of the province of Balochistan.
The PTI promised to fulfil the six demands within a year, but not much work has been carried out on this end. Though in June of 2019, the Baloch Home Minister claimed that 200 missing persons have returned home, the feelings of resentment amongst the aggrieved continue to persist as the missing number about 4000.
Another one of PTI’s failures has been how it has miserably dealt with the demands of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). The PTM gained prominence in early 2018, with the group leading a non-violent but immensely charged movement for the rights of people from the tribal areas. When the president gave assent to the 25th amendment, which officialised FATA’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), it supposedly heralded a new dawn for the people of FATA, with many foreseeing an end to issues that trouble FATA and ferment movements like the PTM.
Unfortunately, this was not the case, and instead of measures to rectify the longstanding grievances of the Pashtuns of FATA, we witnessed high-handedness on part of the state.
We saw PTM activists prevented from taking part in rallies and being thrown behind bars. We witnessed media blackouts of said rallies, and most regrettably, we saw two elected legislators from FATA being thrown in prison on charges that are yet to be proven.
With peaceful movements arising from the region being repressed and the region’s channels to voice its resentment at the national level being cut off, resistance in the restive tribal region is likely to rise. We see in this a key failure of the PTI government, and its failure to capitalise on the KP-FATA merger is evident from the fact that in the recent provincial assembly elections, independents managed to bag the majority of the fourteen seats.
The aforementioned are actors that are not as powerful as the parties who were the runner-ups in the elections of 2018. One could argue that small actors in the political arena do not have the leverage to be treated fairly by incumbents, and consequently the government does not pay heed to their demands. But the PTI has even trampled the two big political parties, PPP and PML-N, in its first year of holding the reigns of rule.
Looking at the way the PTI has behaved with its political opponents, one wouldn’t be reaching if they were to claim that this government has all the trappings of a fascist regime.
Over the year, politicians and their associates have been thrown in jail on flimsy evidence while politicians leading rallies against the government do not receive the favour of media coverage.
There exists a gag on media freedom and analysts highly critical of the government have had their television programmes taken off. Social media teams of the ruling party have frequently run trends viciously targeting outspoken journalists, shoving doubt on their allegiance to the state.
The party that was supposed to bring in a new dawn for Pakistan, has managed to create a weak and rudderless opposition, a gagged media, whilst eliminating space for dissentious opinion. Though it may have tilted the political scales in its favour through this despotic behaviour, it has on the other hand kicked down the fledgling democratic system that exists in the country.
A year on from its victory, the PTI has failed the federation and the freedom that exists within it. A vibrant opposition, a free media, and a citizenry that openly challenges the incumbent regime is a sign of a healthy democracy, which we are far from right now and seem to be inching further from day by day.