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Thoughtless actions often have strong reactions The Statesman 01 Nov 2022
In Apr 1989, the mysterious death of pro-reform Chinese Communist party leader, Hu Yaobang, led to protests by youth in Beijing’s Tiananmen square. On 04 Jun, PLA soldiers accompanied by tanks were sent to forcibly regain control. The takeover was brutal. Figures of protestor casualties vary from a few hundred to a few thousand with thousands more injured. Many fled abroad to escape prosecution. China till date refuses to release details of casualties.
Fearing a repeat, the Tiananmen square incident has vanished from Chinese history books. A re-emergence of similar protests is a perpetual concern within China’s ruling elite and hence they maintain tight vigil over social media suppressing any dissent at the nascent stage itself. Its strict monitoring of its population is solely to suppress any similar uprising.
The acquittal of policeman, George Zimmerman, in July 2013 over the killing of African American teen Trayvon Martin, seventeen months earlier, led to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. It began with a simple Hashtag ‘#BlackLivesMatter’ on social media and has never looked back. The movement gained steam following deaths of two more African Americans, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, at the hands of local police in 2014.
An estimated 20 million people protested globally against the killing of George Floyd by a white policeman in 2020. Currently #BlackLivesMatter is a global movement as every country has its own George Floyd’s. It played a significant role in presidential elections of 2016. The ‘Me Too’ movement founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke became a global movement after numerous sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein in 2017. Both these movements can no longer be ignored.
The first Palestinian intifada was triggered in Dec 1987 with an Israeli security vehicle hitting two vans carrying Palestinian workers killing four. Violence raged across the region with deaths on both sides, mainly Palestinians. Reports state over 2000 were killed. It concluded with the signing of the first of the Oslo accords in Sept 1993.
The second intifada arose from the visit of Aerial Sharon, then an opposition leader, to the al Aqsa mosque intending to project Israel’s control over it. It also lasted five years. There were more than 4,300 fatalities, largely Palestinians. Every single Israel-Palestinian clash since then is viewed as a possible third intifada. These include anti-Israel violent protests in 2014 or in Feb this year. Israel seeks to prevent a recurrence.
In Iran, the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the country’s morality police on 16 Sept this year, triggered protests which refuse to ebb. These protests, led by women, suppressed since the current regime took over the reins, have drawn mass support. Women have burnt their Hijabs in public, as also cut their hair. Strikes have been reported in schools, universities and the oil sector. Over 200 have died thus far, with no end in sight. Global support grows by the day. All attempts to subdue them, including by use of force, have failed. A single incident in a volatile region can be a spark for violence and senseless deaths.
The passing of a bill to extradite criminal suspects from Hong Kong to mainland China resulted in widespread riots in Hong Kong in 2019, embarrassing China. China was forced to withdraw the bill, though protests continued, with protestors claiming, ‘too little too late.’ The protests terminated when restrictions were imposed due to COVID. The passing of farm laws in India also led to long drawn protests, compelling the government to withdraw the laws. Both protests drew global attention.
There are multiple examples where protests or violence, triggered by a single incident or event, have impacted a nation and brought about major changes.
Is the removal of the Imran Khan government the spark which can change Pakistan forever. Adding fuel is the murder of Arshad Sharif, a pro-Imran, anti-establishment journalist, in Kenya. Pakistan has been ruled since independence, either directly or indirectly, by its army. Its critics are kidnapped, if in Pakistan, or killed, if abroad. Imran, whose popularity rose after his removal, has openly challenged the power of the establishment while obtaining the backing of the masses. He has accused the army of overthrowing him at the behest of the US as also for killing Arshad Sharif.
Backchannel talks between Imran and the army, for fresh elections, conducted under the aegis of the President, have failed. His confidence has been buoyed by winning almost all seats in by-polls conducted thus far.
The DG ISI, in a rare press interaction, blamed Imran for the murder of Sharif as also of falsely accusing the army. It was intended to be an open warning to Imran but had no impact. Imran retaliated terming the DGISI’s (whom he addresses as ‘Dirty Harry’) press conference as ‘foolish’ and a combination of ‘lies and half-truths,’ while threatening to expose the institution in case it continues to target him. Battle lines are drawn. The army is desperately seeking solutions to silence Imran. It is possibly the first time in Pakistan’s history that a once favourite political figure has forced the powerful deep state onto the defensive.
Imran’s anti-army speeches have impacted its reputation resulting in increased trolling. The army is now viewed as an interference to development rather than a binding force. Imran’s ranting opened doors for other suppressed critics to begin airing their displeasures. The army’s power is being challenged as never before. Its claims of sacrifices ignored.
In case Imran returns to power the hold of the army over Islamabad will be diminished. Such a thought is unacceptable to the Generals. Hence, they will attempt to ensure Imran’s sidelining. However, it will not be easy and may end up as a full-blown internal security crisis, adding to the ongoing financial turmoil. The army faces tough choices.
A simple act of dethroning Imran has turned into a power struggle between Imran and the generals. A puppet is challenging the generals might, threatening to spill state secrets, if kept away from the seat of power.
Pakistan is a clear example where a single decision, without a detailed analysis, can change the nation.