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Rally in Karachi

Updated May 12, 2018

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REPORTS that Sindh Rangers have sought to disrupt Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement meetings in Karachi ahead of its intended rally on Sunday, and that Sindh Police has issued charge sheets against scores of its activists, are deeply troubling.

The sweeping indictments include sedition, rioting, unlawful assembly — as well as terrorism and sectarianism under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Since February, PTM has successfully staged peaceful gatherings in Islamabad, Peshawar, Swat and Lahore.

There is no indication that Karachi’s rally would be any different; even concerns that holding it on May 12 might be misconstrued along sectarian lines have been dispelled.

Such heavy-handedness is even more surprising given the province’s long and vibrant political tradition, one that has seen peasants, socialists, Sindhi nationalists and even separatists hold mass rallies in its major cities, including Karachi, over the years.

That a large political rally can be held without any untoward incident would only serve to bolster the case that law and order has genuinely been restored in the city.

The authorities’ clampdown is thus paranoid and counterproductive.

The movement’s language may often be incandescent, but their ends are just and their means constitutional.

Brokering an honest dialogue (which is what they desire in their demand for a truth and reconciliation commission) would soothe their rancour, while using the very methods that they seek to reform (overreach and excessive force) can easily backfire.

These activists have so far peacefully endured attempts to malign their intentions and suppress their activities. But even the most non-violent movements, if pushed too far, can be sabotaged and succumb to violence.

The jirga constituted by the government to facilitate talks with PTM has rightly called for restraint. Public disaffection existed long before PTM came to the fore of national politics.

Calls to change the status quo have, in fact, long dominated it. PTM is entitled to its say in this debate. There should be no more arbitrary actions against them.

Like everyone else, they must be allowed to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2018