Dharna is now talk of the town and it is an omnipresent topic in all walks of life. The date of Maulana Fazal ur Rehman’s Dharna “Azadi March” is nearing and every coming day is making the government nervous. I had earlier advised the Prime Minister Imran Khan through a TV interview one month back that he should keep his ego aside and visit Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, MianShehbaz Sharrif and other political leaders and should talk with them politically to defuse the political uncertainty in the country. The political scenario would have been different and the upcoming political move of MaulanaFazalur Rehman would have been frustrated if the PM Imran Khan could have understood and acted on my advice.

We as nation have been trapped in numerous issues which have become now sources of depression in all circles. Nabbing by National Accountability Bureau has been scaring the politicians, bureaucratic and business community whereas the escalating inflation and price hike have put the poor and middle class in terrible distress.

Now the news of Dharna has certainly created uncertainty and chaos in the minds of people of Pakistan particular it is scarier for the citizen of Islamabad based on their past bad memories of Dharna when business was halted and the doors of schools were shut for children. The previous Dharna have taught us some lessons that must not be ignored. Parliamentary procedure should be adopted by opposition for any political movement against the government rather creating uncertainty among masses by sit-ins, blocking roads and shutting the schools, markets and hospitals.

Historically Dharna is a Hindi word for a non-violent sit-in protest to receive fast justice, state response or payment of a debt. The word originates from the Sanskrit word Dharna. In the time of all India, when there were the colonial system, Dharna was used as a popular form of public protest to express strong disagreement, disapproval and opposition to some action or something. It was also used as part of Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha form of civil disobedience and protest during Indian Independence Movement. But, now we are independent nation and it is our own country where differences could be resolved through meaningful political dialogue rather still behaving and acting like under siege and unfortunately Dharna has become a pressurizing political tool in the hands of opposition.

Factually, in Pakistan along with use of other forms of protests and strikes, sit-in has received more popularity. The Dharna tactic in Pakistan was first used in 1958 by the first Chief Minister of the NWFP Late Abdul Qayyum Khan against the Prime Minister Feroze Khan’s administration to remove his President Iskander Mirza. It is part of history that Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) Dharna helped General Zia ul Haq to oust Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto- the first elected Prime Minister in the history of Pakistan and PNA used mosques to stimulate the masses. Unfortunately Dharnas have never served the democracy rather served latent aid to over throw the democratic governments. Qazi Hussain Ahmed then JI Amir organised Dharna against PPP government in 1993 and the government of PPP was sent home within the period of its launch from Rawalpindi to Islamabad. Moreover, murder cases were registered against the then Interior Minister late General Naseer ullah Babar and Commissioner Rawalpindi and both went to graves with the false FIR against them.

I as then Interior Minister experienced and faced the Long March for Restoration of Judiciary. On 9th March 2007, General Musharaf deposed the then-Chief Justice Iftekhar Muhammad Chaudhary along with sixty other judges and dissolved the judiciary which led to a nationwide lawyers’ long march. The March was first of its kind that demanded the restoration of judiciary. The judges were restored for some time until Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in the country and sent the Chief Justice home for a second time. Later in 2009, under PPP government, Nawaz Sharif along with Imran Khan and Qazi Hussain Ahmed planned a sit-in protest and against PPP. I was the one to handle that potential Dharna before it could enter Islamabad whose only purpose was to overthrow our government in the name of ‘Restoration of Judiciary’ but timely political wisdom and dialogue worked out and successfully averted the situation. On directions of then President Asif Ali Zardari, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was reinstated as the Chief Justice on my recommendations and there was no role of anybody else in this restoration. After this, there was a second Dharna in 2013 during my tenure when Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) under Dr. Tahir Ul Qadri marched from Lahore and staged a sit-in against Pakistan People’s Party Government in front of Parliament House Islamabad which was also successfully averted and PAT was brought to the table through dialogue resultantly the said Dharna ended without any loss of life. This Dharna was planned in London backed by a powerful business house and duly backed by powerful quarters which I will write in details one day about the supports and protectors of the said Dharna.

On the other hand, during Nawaz Government, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek Lahore Dharna was not dealt politically through negotiation resultantly turned into a war Zone on 17th June 2014 taking the lives of dozens of workers of PAT hence we should not forget such aggressive political moves might lose chances of a peaceful settlement of the issues and can take many innocent lives when such mobs become unruly.

I was nominated as Chief of Political Jirga when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) under Imran Khan held a Dharna against Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government. When the government was unable to defuse the impasse, I took the responsibility and by the grace of Allah Almighty, I was able to have it ended peacefully with the endless efforts of other members of the Jirga and the proceeding of this Jirga are part of the public record. JI chief Senator Siraj Ul Haq, Senator Ishaq Dar, Jehangir Tareen, Senator Hasil Benzjo and Senator Kalsoom Parveen and others played outstanding role in ending that 126 long Dharna of PTI. To defuse the deadlock and find a peaceful solution, several times, I met Imran Khan and Dr. Tahir Ul Qadri as part of the efforts. I have this honour to head and host this high powered Political Jirga and it was successfully concluded and I had full the confidence of President Asif Ali Zardari and my party - PPP.

The sit-ins led by Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf ( PTI) and Tahir-ul-Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehreek along with billions rupees loss to the country economy, had also resulted in the cancellation of highly important visit by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and postponement of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s maiden visit in 2014.

The people have very fresh memories of Faizabad’ sit-in where Islamabad was crippled for many days and it resulted with negativities incidentally. The sit-in was held in November 2017 by Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah political party which hampered the daily life in twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad as well as other cities across Pakistan. Now other political and religious leaders are also attempting to use this strategy of Dharna for their political gains and purposes. The history of Dharnas and lockdowns in Pakistan have resulted into victory of politicians but failure of democracy. Our country has been under siege by rumours, poor law enforcement, corrupt systems, protests, sit in’s and mainly because of the wedge between the Government and the institutions for the past few years and it looks the Dharna is now way of politics in Pakistan.

This Dharna could have been avoided if the government had kept the political environment cordial and political instead of following the politics of abusive syndrome for political opponents and nabbing them through NAB.

The Dharna tactics bound to bring political instability and discourages economic growth which eventually puts adverse effects on the socio-economic and political environment of a country. Consequently, the political instability will further reduce economic growth and will escalate inflation and price hike. A big question in the minds of the public that is Dharna going to be future way of politics or an effective tool as a counter force to keep the governments in place. I am of firm view that all Dharna in past have ended either by the fall of governments or ended with skilful political negotiation playing a win win situation and handling skilfully.

Let us see that will the negotiations succeed this time or evolution of a new system over a period of time may emerge in light of worst law and order and ever worsening of economy which has already made the life of a common man miserable. I hope the political leadership realizes the most difficult and sensitive time being faced by our beloved Pakistan from India, Afghanistan and USA.

Note: Opinions expressed are solely my own and not necessarily to reflect the views or opinions of my party.

The writer is Former Interior Minister of Pakistan, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Chairman of Think Tank “Global Eye”. He can be reached at: rmalik1212@gmail.com, Twitter

@Senrehmanmalik