Government spending on security is generally understood as money well spent. Security, after all, is a sound investment and few can argue against it especially in a world beset by terrorism and violence. But if good money running into tens of millions of rupees is thrown away on guaranteeing security during, say, a sit-in or protest, the motive and logic of it are worth questioning. Upon being prompted in the upper house of parliament, the interior ministry shared details of the expenditure incurred on security during protests in Islamabad in the last five years.
The figures are striking: between 2014 and 2017 alone the government spent up to 1.121 billion rupees on four major sit-ins in the federal capital. This does not include the smaller and less significant protests. The capital’s biggest and second biggest protests – organised and led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 2014 and then two years later in 2016 – were also the costliest. The government spent Rs755.9 million on the 2014 PTI sit-in which lasted 126 days and Rs 210 million on the Islamabad lockdown also called by PTI in 2016. Both sit-ins also claimed casualties when protesters clashed with the police. More confrontation and casualties were seen when protesters and law enforcement squared up against each other in Faizabad in 2017.
Not all protests in the capital were sparked by the vagaries and compulsions of domestic or national politics. For instance, a rally staged by groups protesting against the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and their expulsion from the country set the federal authorities back by Rs12 million. While one recognises the democratic and constitutional right of individuals or entities to stage protests, it is also important to consider the financial implications of such actions as well as their disruptive power. If a sit-in should prove costly in terms of both security and money, and also obstruct the path of motorists and commuters, their organizers would be well advised to limit those protests to areas and routes that are likely to cause the least trouble for the public. There are lessons for the administration as well. It needs to get tougher on sit-ins and routinely hold back consent for indefinite protests as a matter of policy.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2018.
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