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How PDM Quetta Jalsa Brought Together Ethnic Majority And Alienated Minorities

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As expected, Quetta responded warmly to Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)’s call for protest and came out in great numbers last Sunday. The PDM’s Quetta public meeting was third in the series after Gujranwala and Karachi within the span of 9 days. The Karachi and Gujranwala gatherings were also impressive in terms of numbers but Quetta’s response was particularly significant. Balochistan’s scattered citizens came together to participate in an anti-government protest. The Baloch and Pakhtun communities who are the majority in the province face unending political, economic and cultural deprivation and have been the victims of the state oppression for the last seven decades.

However, the real uniqueness of the Quetta event lies in the fact that the issue of missing persons was highlighted in the mainstream for the first time. Surrounded by the heirs of missing persons, Maryam Nawaz Sharif spoke clearly against this grave humanitarian issue of enforced disappearance. Her stance also strengthened the cause. Because, previously, the family members of missing persons could only flock to the PTM public meetings where they would surround the stage. Civil rights movements and ethnic minority groups were the only ones raising voice for missing persons.

People were skeptical if Maryam Nawaz would raise the issue of enforced disappearances during the Quetta rally. The issue is considered ‘sensitive’ and there have been instances that those who raised voice for the missing persons went missing themselves. Missing activist Idrees Khattak is one example.

The political landscape had changed long before the PDM began its rallies. The political temperature rose when Mian Nawaz Sharif addressed the opposition All Parties Conference (APC) in September. Nawaz Sharif’s APC speech and his subsequent statements set the tone for further aggression. But Quetta’s mass gathering proved to be crucial in determining whether the opposition is serious about its ‘resistance’ narrative. The ethnic minorities no longer feel alienated. For the Punjabi leaders have now lent support to them. They have all united against a force that crushes dissent regardless of their ethnicities.

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For the first time in the political history of the country, a leader from the heartland of Punjab is leading a movement that challenged the entire paradigm imposed by the security establishment. Now when one looks in retrospection, it seems that Punjab was deliberately kept infertile to make it incapable of producing political leaders who are not like civil and military bureaucrats.

The current political alliance in the form of PDM and its narrative (particularly that of Nawaz Sharif) has shattered many myths, especially the artificially created security paradigm which was based on the negation of history, cultural ethnicities, federalism and provincial autonomy. The diverse cultural and political characteristics were never suitable for centralism and unity through uniformity. The viability of this state had always lied in unity through diversity, federalism and local autonomy. These essential ethnic, cultural and linguistic characteristics could provide a natural base and roots to the new state. But that would make the rule of a few impossible.

The mere passage of the 18th amendment subsided the resentment of the smaller provinces even though it wasn’t implemented in letter and spirit. And that one practical step gave hope to the smaller provinces and restored their confidence in the federation and largely in the state.

The mass turnout in Quetta that represented almost all shades of the Pakistani society ranging from ethnic minorities to the religious segment was for the mainstream political leaders, particularly from Punjab, who had challenged the undemocratic forces. This is enough proof that people belonging to different regions and ethnicities are more than willing to live together in a state as long as they are allowed to choose who rules them. Instead of achieving short terms political gains, the leadership of PDM should use this national momentum to reimagine Pakistan as a welfare state.

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Naya Daur