Policing and the right to protest.

IT appears as if Imran Khan has deliberately slowed down the pace of his party's 'long march' on Islamabad. But the challenge of providing security to the protestors and maintaining law and order has been mounting for the law enforcers, especially after an assassination attempt on Mr Khan injured the former prime minister. As things stand now, the federal capital has been placed on high alert. The PTI governments in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Kashmir denied help to the Islamabad administration, mainly on political grounds, making the task of the Islamabad Police gruelling and complicated.

Alternatively, Islamabad Police requested Sindh Police and the FC to assist it in maintaining law and order in the capital during the PTI demonstrations. The PTI workers had blocked all major highways of KP and Punjab leading towards Islamabad, thus making commuting very hard in Islamabad, with life coming to a virtual standstill.

The PTI is not halting life in the federal capital for the first time; nor is it the first political party using coercive measures for its political demands. Almost all political and religious parties have used this tactic in recent times. However, it has been the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan whose protests yielded something for it in the end. Though the TLP leadership complains that the state institutions did not fully honour their commitments, many of its demands were, in fact, fully or partially fulfilled.

The PTI has a long history of protests, but as compared to the TLP, its cadre has remained less violent, despite the fact that its followers appear very charged. One probable reason is that the PTI chairman uses the protests only to build pressure on state institutions and keeps motivating its support base in this regard. However, frequent or prolonged demonstrations have multiple implications. They not only lead the country to a protracted political crisis but also affect the economy and state business, besides disturbing the cycle of daily life.

'Public order' is a tricky term and can be interpreted in many ways.

Whenever such a situation arises in Islamabad, it triggers a debate about the legality of the protests and their political and security-related dimensions. Recently, Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court made important remarks regarding the closure of roads during protests, saying that the right to freedom of expression cannot be exercised by affecting the fundamental rights of fellow citizens. He...

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