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Why the violence in Islamabad has a resonance in India's Panchkula

Harsha Kakar
Harsha KakarNov 26, 2017 | 17:25

Why the violence in Islamabad has a resonance in India's Panchkula

Two recent incidents of violence in India and Pakistan have a similarity in how they were handled (read mishandled).

While Haryana's Panchkula saw supporters of self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh enter the city and camp for days before his sentencing, in Islamabad too protesters seeking reversal of amendments to the Elections Act had been on a sit-in since the beginning of November.

In both cases violence was expected to break out if an attempt was made to evict the protesters. Yet in both instances, the governments oscillated and delayed action, hence allowing the agitators to hold the city to ransom while they contemplated action. Both the Haryana government and Pakistan's central government chose to turn a blind eye to the looming crises.

Both governments seemed primarily concerned with their own survival. The Haryana government had used Ram Rahim's massive following to garner votes, it was therefore fearful of inviting a political backlash in evicting the godman's followers from Panchkula. On the other hand, the Pakistan government was worried about the forthcoming elections and the court, which was threatening to place Nawaz Sharif behind bars.

pacn690_112617042759.jpgHaryana's Panchkula saw supporters of self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh enter the city and camp for days before his sentencing.

It was finally the court which compelled the governments to act upon realising that the protests could turn ugly.

In both cases, as a precautionary measure, the governments had requisitioned immense police and paramilitary forces. In Panchkula, Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) began arriving on the morning of the sentencing, whereas in Islamabad armed forces were in the city, but away from the scene of protests.

The initial assault on the protesters was launched by police and paramilitary, but failed. Analysing the causes would again bring in similarities.

The major cause of failure was that the assault was ill-conceived and uncoordinated. Had it been done at night or early morning, in both cases, there would have been a reasonable chance of success.

As videos and news reports indicated, the police ran away from the scene adding to the growing confidence of protesters. This happened because the governments had underestimated the strength and determination of the agitators, who were passionate about their cause.

The only difference between how the two nations moved to control the situation was in the use of their armies. While in Haryana, the Indian Army moved in immediately after the CAPF and police failed, in Pakistan, the army came into the picture a day later.

Pakistan army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, was aware of the gravity of the situation but refused to involve the army in the operations in a bid to save the government from any embarrassment.

Director general, Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations, major general Asif Ghafoor, tweeted on Saturday that the army chief had telephonically informed Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, to handle the sit-in peacefully avoiding violence from "both sides".

He said the move was made in national interest. Interestingly, he placed the state security personnel and protesters on the same pedestal as far as violence was concerned. His tweet implied that the army would not get involved, unless initial attempts failed, and the government was embarrassed.

In Haryana, on the other hand, the army was on standby and deployed almost immediately as eviction attempts by the police and CAPF failed.

There were no comments by the army on not employing its troops. After all, India is a true democracy and the army is duty-bound to respond when called in. Thus, peace was restored quickly, with comparatively lesser loss to life and property. Casualties in Pakistan's case are much higher, as army's deployment was further delayed.

islamabad690_112617042913.jpgProtesters seeking reversal of amendments to the Elections Act had been on a sit-in in Islamabad since the beginning of November.

Deaths in both cases were needless and a result of police firing, which could have been avoided had timely action been taken to evict unlawful protesters. The blame for the failure in both cases was put on the politicians who sat thinking while the protesters gathered strength and amassed weapons.

Neither government admitted that they were aware that the protesters had come planned to agitate and cause violence.

As per reports in the Panchkula case, the situation went out of control because of the way in which the police handled the situation and piecemeal deployment of security forces. When the dust settles, it would become clear that the same thing happened in Islamabad.

The similarity in the way in which the two protests were handled appears more tragic when one analyses the fact that there was enough time to plan and implement a plan to avoid violence. Pakistan police did not realise that the wind direction didn't support the use of tear gas till the time they actually fired it.

Securing vote banks and avoiding political turmoil delay decision-making, especially when handling situations which have a possibility of escalating. Deploying police and CAPFs without a cohesive plan and in an uncoordinated manner is bound to lead to embarrassing situations, seeking the deployment of the army. It also leads to more casualties.

Last updated: November 27, 2017 | 14:48
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