Azadi March Agreement

  • Lessons for the government


The government and the JUI-F finally reached an agreement on Saturday on the latter’s Azadi March on October 31, which seemed a fair exchange. The district administration agreed to let the protesters hold a rally or even stage a sit-in if they wished, while the JUI-F Islamabad agreed that the protesters would not go into the Red Zone (where there are various sensitive buildings) or break the law. While the agreement is in itself good news, the government might also learn the value of good old-fashioned talk in resolving issues.

It should realise that it has achieved its interests in Islamabad by talking. Similarly, it should realise that it has a problem legislating, because it has not got a majority in the Senate. Therefore, it needs the help of the opposition in passing legislation there. That help cannot be achieved by continuing to treat opposition members as if they were a bad smell, who were corrupt elements who did not deserve to be spoken to. That self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude may be morally satisfying, but is a very poor basis for beginning any dialogue. Another issue has been illustrated by the withdrawal of JUI-F leader Hafiz Hamdullah’s CNIC, even though he has served as a Senator. It is an appropriate symbol of the government’s travails, which are with the JUI-F and in the Senate, both of which Hamdullah is linked to.

The government should realise that dialogue, discussion and even disagreement are all part of democracy. However, underlying democracy is an agreement, even if that agreement is one to disagree. If the PTI was to realise this, it could begin the dialogues it needs to hold, the absence of which have led to needless confrontation. To take just one example, the PTI did not need the controversy over the members of the Election Commission of Pakistan, but that took place only because the Prime Minister did not want to meet the Leader of the Opposition, whom he considers corrupt. The assumption that dialogue with the opposition is motivated by the government’s desire to protect its corruption should have been ended by the Azadi March talks, which should have shown the government that members of the opposition are also people.