Pakistan News

All roads open for protest and siege

All roads open for protest and siege

OKARA: The GT Road connecting Sahiwal and Okara remained closed to traffic for 55 hours from Sept 1 to 3. Hundreds of the Anjuman Mozraeen Punjab (AMP) besieged the road in protest at the arrest of one of their leaders, Hafiz Jabir.

This blockade ended after dialogues between AMP leaders and the civil administration, police and local MNA Nadeem Abbas Rubera.

The days-long road siege cut off Lahore and Okara with south Punjab as the protesters blocked all arteries connecting the GT Road.

Street power has become a deadly weapon of the AMP, which it has used seven times in the last five years.

“Protest against injustice is our right and no one can deny this right to us,” says AMP leader Mehr Abdul Sattar.

Except for the last besiege, each time the road blockade lasted not more than 12 hours.

The AMP, the representatives of Okara military farms’ tenants, surfaced as a powerful force about 15 years ago to safeguard their land ownership rights. It represents the tenants of Renala Estate, Byle Gunj, Proban Abad military farm and Kulyana Estate with a popular slogan “Malki ya mout” (land ownership or death).

Tenants come to road whenever they face eviction or their leaders are arrested or are face possible arrest. Each time, the end sufferers of the road siege have been motorists and commuters. Protesters smash vehicles challenging the siege.

Sahiwal Regional Police Officer Ghulam Mehmood Dogar told our reporter (in Lahore) Imran Gabul the AMP had promised not to block GT Road in the future. He said they had registered cases against 500 people for damaging cars and beating drivers.

But police has yet to take any action against the tenants as in the past, the administration would convince the AMP to lift road siege through dialogues. During the last siege, on Sept 3, the Sahiwal RPO and Sahiwal District Police Officer (DPO) Syed Baqir Raza arrived in the office of Okara District Coordination Officer Kaiser Saleem where they with Okara DPO Faisal Rana held a seven-hour long meeting to discuss a strategy to tackle the protesters but they failed to devise an agreed plan.

Mr Dogar says it is up to the Punjab government and revenue department to solve the land ownership issue to stop such protests in the future. He said a friction had emerged among AMP ranks which would weaken their power.

But the unity of tenants has made the AMP a magnet for political parties in elections times. The PPP enjoys a massive support among tenants as they take inspiration from the pro-poor policies of the late, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The pro-tenant alliance, however, has been accused of harbouring criminals in its areas where police face resistance during raids.

The frequent road protests by the AMP, and now by Pakistan Kissan Ittehad in the district, have developed a strong public opinion that the government has failed to tackle the road blockade as per law.

“Who knows how many lives have been lost due to the road blockades and how many wedding processions have been delayed,” says a journalist.

Though there is no data available on revenue losses due to the road protest but every road blockade has exposed the writ of the government.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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