Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir write a:
The mayhem of 9th of May and subsequent events left profound scars on the national psyche, and it would take many years to heal the wound. The burning of Jinnah House, the mere mention of which causes Pakistanis to automatically bow their heads in respect and reverence, has caused all “Pakistanis to hang their heads in disgrace and shame. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes must be dealt with an iron hand while respecting and upholding the fundamental rights granted to every citizen under the constitution as the state can only counter the lawless violent protests, militants, and miscreants by powers vested on them by the constitution and law.
In this context, the statements made by the Prime Minister, Interior Minister, and Punjab’s caretaker chief minister are extremely reassuring and commendable, as they have repeatedly pledged that violent protests, militants, and miscreants will be dealt with an iron fist, but within the confines of the constitution and applicable laws and regulations, and that not a single innocent person will be harassed, intimidated, or threatened. The chief minister then challenged those who accused the government of violating the law by torturing the accused while they were in detention to identify even a single instance in which unlawful actions were taken against the accused. The assurances have provided parents, relatives, and friends of those currently detained on accusations of violence and endangering public safety with a much-needed sigh of relief.
It is also encouraging that the entire political leadership, including the PTI chairman, has condemned the violent protests, devastation of Jinnah House and other public property, and endangerment of the lives of the citizens. This is an encouraging sign because protestors, demonstrators, and agitators do not have the authority or permission to use violence to accomplish their political goals anywhere in the world. Globally, societies recognize the right to peaceful assembly as a fundamental right that allows individuals to assemble in public spaces and express their opinions through protests, demonstrations, and other forms of peaceful assembly. However, they must obtain permits or notify local authorities in advance of the nature, location, and route of their protest in order to ensure public safety, coordinate traffic management, and provide the necessary resources to prevent acts of violence, destruction of property, and actions that endanger public safety; legal repercussions may ensue if such incidents occur.
The protestors must also not obstruct roadways, and trespass on private property, refrain from interfering with the rights of others, and avoid actions that impede others’ daily activities or access to public services. Additionally, they must maintain open channels of communication with local authorities by informing them of the planned route, providing them with contact information, and cooperating with authorities to avoid misunderstandings. When exercising their right to free expression, they must also respect the rights and dignity of others and refrain from hate speech, which is not protected by the law and may result in legal action. It appears that neither the letter nor the spirit of the globally established rules and regulations were adhered to, which led to the lamentable events of 9 May.
The same law that established certain principles and regulations for the demonstrators also provides law enforcement agencies with universally accepted guidelines for dealing with violent protesters. When enforcing the law, law enforcement agencies must protect the rights of all individuals, including demonstrators. Dealing with belligerent protesters within the bounds of the law helps maintain a balance between the right to protest and the need to maintain public safety and order. It is the duty of law enforcement agencies to uphold the principles of fairness and due process and adhere to established legal procedures. They must ensure that any actions taken against violent protesters are fair and just, that the presumption of innocence is maintained, that the right to a fair trial is granted, and that the use of force is proportional and necessary. The LEA by operating within the constitutional framework and rules of law, maintain their legitimacy in the eyes of the public, which is essential for maintaining public trust and cooperation and for eliciting the citizens’ willingness to support them which prevents the situation from escalating into further violence and chaos, reduces the risk of exacerbating tensions and aids in defusing the situation and restoring order under control.
It is also regrettable that in recent times there has been an unprecedented increase in unfavorable comments, remarks, and opinions regarding the role and conduct of the armed forces and their leadership, a trend that should be avoided at all costs. A strong, unified, and focused army is necessary for the safety and security of the nation and to foster an environment in which citizens can contribute to the nation’s progress and prosperity to the fullest extent of their abilities. Therefore, as a nation, we should refrain from dragging the army into the political arena and from criticizing either their leadership or institution in our public discourses and especially in media discussions, as doing so can undermine their effectiveness and authority, erode public trust and confidence in their abilities, and compromise their ability to effectively carry out their responsibilities.
It is in our own self-interest to support and revere the men and women serving in the military in their efforts to maintain a strong and cohesive force in the face of internal and external threats. Freedom of expression and a free press are just as important as maintaining a healthy balance between military accountability and respect. When based on facts and evidence, constructive criticism can enhance and improve the military’s performance. It should be conducted responsibly and within the limits of applicable laws and regulations to avoid negative consequences that could compromise national security or the morale of the armed forces.
We must also acknowledge that the Armed Forces are carrying out their anti-terrorism and anti-extremism responsibilities in accordance with the National Action Plan by making innumerable and irreplaceable sacrifices. The Armed forces are apolitical and fully committed to carrying out their mandated roles and responsibilities in both peace and conflict. It assists the Civilian Government upon request and promptly returns to barracks upon completion of assigned duties. They are essential to the security and safety of the nation and should not be brought into politics or subjected to any discussion that would diminish their vital role. As a nation, we must exercise our fundamental human rights with a sense of responsibility, avoid taking the law into our own hands, and allow all state institutions and pillars to perform their complementary roles in the best interest of the country and its people.
We must understand that our country is in a dire financial and economic predicament and especially in these trying times, cannot afford any form of violence, disunity in our ranks and files and threat to the safety and security of the country. It is imperative that all pillars of the state and all institutions, politicians and other stakeholders if they have any, set aside their vested interests and vendettas and focus their energies, capabilities, and efforts to rescue the nation from its economic and financial difficulties.