Pakistan: ongoing protest, socio-economic unrest and their pernicious impacts

Pakistan experienced a series of street protests and rallies in various provinces, on divergent issues. In a way, the demonstrations brought out by people, showcase the inefficient, divisive and autocratic policies of the state. The economic condition of the country has also long been in the doldrums plummeting to new lows on daily basis with inflation at an all-time high. As reported on August 29, leadership in Pakistan expects the IMF to resume the month-long stalled USD 6 billion bailout programme; however, the economy is in so much of shamble that a rally in the nation’s assets may fizzle out amid escalating political tensions. Pakistan has also made a request to the Fund’s Board to augment the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) from USD 6 billion to USD 7 billion and jack up the timeframe from September 2022 to June 2023. The development on the political front can put fragile financial stability at risk as supporters of Imran Khan staging protests. “The political uncertainties will persist with speculations on early elections,” said Junyu Tan, an economist at Natixis in Singapore. This will pose a major risk for Pakistani assets. “Pakistan’s government will need to deliver on its reform promises to set its debt and reserves on a sustainable path,” said Patrick Curran, a senior economist at London-based research firm Tellier.

Street protests and rallies

Earlier on August 25, a district and sessions court in Islamabad granted interim bail to PTI Chairman Imran Khan in a case related to the alleged violation of Section 144 in the federal capital. The Islamabad Police had filed the case against him and other PTI leaders for holding a rally in the federal capital on August 20 despite a ban. Two days later, on August 22, further ruckus was created as supporters of Imran Khan chanted slogans against the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, which took over after Khan’s ouster in a confidence vote in April, 2022. “If Imran Khan is arrested …we will take over Islamabad with people’s power,” a former minister in his cabinet, Ali Amin Gandapur, threatened on Twitter, as some party leaders urged supporters to prepare for mass mobilisation. Unfortunately, in addition to the political protests and demonstrations, the month started with reports of violent ethnic clashes in Sindh. The protest and strikes were called by ethnic teams within the wake of the killing of 35-year-old Bilal Kaka in Hyderabad and a violent demonstration at Sohrab Goth that adopted the incident.

Interestingly, the ethnic violence has also taken a twist with warfare of ‘ideologies.’ Pakistan’s various left-wing and left-leaning parties condemned the killing of Kaka and the following violence and attacks on Pashtun-owned hotels and businesses. The declaration, signed by 13 parties, while demanding thorough investigation into the killing and arrest of all accused nominated in the FIR also censured the inability of the provincial and federal governments to curb the violence. Meanwhile, Nationalist parties sustained to place the blame for the violence and strife in Sindh on “foreigners” and “illegal immigrants”, saying that they were disrupting the peace and have demanded their repatriation from the province.

In the mountainous region of Swat, in the Malakand Division of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), on August 12, a large group of people took to the streets to protest against the presence of militants in mountains bordering the area, asserting that they will never allow any element to sabotage the “hard-earned peace” in the region. The protests, titled ‘We want peace in Swat’ and ‘No to terrorism’, were held near the Matta Chowk in Khwazakhela tehsil and Kabal Chowk in Kabal tehsil. The demonstrators were seen holding white and black flags as they walked through the markets of the districts. They also chanted “We want peace in Swat and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa” slogans. Participants of the rally expressed anger over videos recently released by militants in social media showing a man claiming to be a member of the TTP interrogating an army major whose hands had evidently been tied behind his back, and asserting that the militants had taken him and two others hostage. A jirga (tribal council) later successfully negotiated the release of the captives.

Earlier on August 11, Member Provincial Assembly (MPA) from PK-12 Dir Upper and senior Jammat-e-Islami (JI) leader Inayatullah Khan submitted an adjournment motion against the increasing lawlessness in Lower Dir district as well as Malakand region in KP Assembly. “Lawlessness has once again returned… evident from the target killings as well as kidnapping of police officials and broad daylight attack at MPA Liaqat Ali in which four innocent people lost their lives, resulting in panic and unrest among the local population naturally,” says the motion. Wide spread protests were also reported in the Lower Dir district.

A complicated scenario

Apart from financial turmoil at international level, local trading activities in KP are also getting hampered due to lawlessness. On August 24, traders belonging to Bajaur district staged a protest demonstration against the worsening law and order situation and targeted killings by unknown assailants in the region. The protesters led by their President Arab Jan gathered in front of Kohat Press Club and demanded action against those who had challenged the writ of the government. The disturbed province of Balochistan, is in middle of age-old protests against police and armed forces atrocities and enforced disappearances of local Baloch people. Surprisingly, amidst the severe flood situation, engulfing the entire country, Baloch people are continuing with their protests. As reported on August 26, in the heavy rain in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, the protest sit-in of the families of Baloch missing persons continues in the sensitive red zone area as heavy rains continue to wreak havoc across Balochistan. A day earlier, Balochistan’s Interior advisor Zia Langov visited the vigil and asked the relatives of the abducted Baloch to end their protest due to deteriorating weather, but the relatives refused his request. The Baloch people have long been saying that the Pakistan army is directly involved in enforced disappearances, other human rights violations and ongoing military offensives in Balochistan. The protesting families expressed their anger by blaming the provincial government that was completely apathetic to them and their demands for consecutive 37 days of their protest but claiming that it was so concerned about them. In reality, they could never realise the pain of torture, mistreatment and agony that their loved ones were inflicted upon by Pakistani army in torture chambers.

Moreover, in Harnai, Balochistan, protests continued over political killing of an Awami National Party (ANP) activist, as reported on August 15. The protest was taken out at Khost on the Quetta-Harnai highway and participated in great number by workers from the ANP, Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and the National Democratic Movement (NDM). Unfortunately, the protestors met with official firing. “Firing on the peaceful people of Harnai is a violation of human rights and the constitution of Pakistan. The incident of firing on peaceful and unarmed people is a matter of concern,” ANP MPA Shahina Kakar had said in a tweet.

The disputed area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), also experienced protests. The recent move by Islamabad that seeks to transfer financial and legislative powers from the local government to the federal government of Pakistan, under 15th Constitution Amendment Bill, has created widespread protest in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. PoK citizens showed their anger over the repeated attempts by the Islamabad government to divest the region of its special power and take complete control over the administration. There is a powerful undercurrent of disgruntlement in the PoK region. Moreover, there has been an outcry that Islamabad does not take the people in PoK into confidence or consult them before taking big decisions for them. Protests have broken out in all 10 districts of the region. Protestors alleged that the imperialistic policies of Islamabad had the conspiracy and nefarious design to merge PoK into Pakistan. On August 14, Kashmiri people of Pok came to the street, shut the cities, and shouted slogans against Pakistan. While major Pakistani news media did not cover the issue, social media was flooded with protest videos. Resultantly, the Bill to undermine autonomy of PoK was withdrawn on August 18.

Most importantly, as discussed at the beginning, the impact of unrest in Pakistan seems a complete anathema to the ailing economy of Pakistan. Touqir Hussain, who teaches international relations at the Georgetown University, noted that the economy “has been in trouble since long” before the PTI-PDM conflict started. But he warned that “the confrontation is creating economic uncertainty, political instability and potential civil unrest, which is hardly an environment for improvement of the economy.” Moreover, the outbreak of recent flood and the following devastation has caused major financial and humanitarian crises for Pakistan. This natural calamity is estimated to hit the economy by at least USD 10 billion as flooding from the highest rainfall in more than three decades continues to threaten lives in the world’s fifth most populous nation. The torrential rains have already killed more than 1,000 people since June, 2022. Someone that plans harm or misfortune for others may also inadvertently be the recipient of that same misfortune.