Pakistan’s seemingly endless, sweltering summer reached its nadir as protests against power cuts in Punjab turned exceptionally violent. Demonstrators have started targeting the houses of MNAs and MPAs, as a result of which two people have died in retaliatory firing by the guards posted outside an MNA’s house in Kamalia. There was also at least one fatality in Khanewal, while in Sahiwal and other cities of the province, the protesters decided to go after their public representatives. Some of the methods of protest — setting fire to the offices of electricity companies — were bizarre and counterproductive.
Clearly, the authorities cannot let these protests carry on for much longer. Having demonstrators block major highways and railway tracks cannot be tolerated. Arson and violence, no matter how bad the power crisis is, must not be condoned. However, law-enforcement officials need to learn to deal with the protesters in a just and proportionate manner. In Khanewal, a protester was killed after an MNA’s security detail started firing live bullets. Elsewhere, tear gas was liberally employed by the police. Such actions serve only to further inflame passions and will likely lead to even more people coming out on the streets. The use of water cannons, which may actually have been welcome in this heat, may have been wiser. Also, instead of firing live bullets, the use of rubber bullets as an alternative should be considered.
Ultimately, though, there is little the police can do to subdue the protesters. The only solution is to provide a steady supply of electricity. It may be too late for the government to do anything in this regard this year, but hopefully these protests will stir it into action for coming years. Solving the power crisis needs to be its number one priority. If that means building the Iran gas pipeline and snubbing the US, then so be it. If that means defying the establishment and importing electricity from India, then that is a price the government should be ready to pay for the betterment of the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2012.
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