Although unarmed, peaceful, and relatively few in number, their message and voices were heard loud and clear – they sought social justice, end to global corporate greed and exploitative economic system that have pushed millions of people into abject poverty and are forcing them to take extreme step of taking their life.
The participants of the “Occupy Islamabad” rally, inspired by the anti-globalisation movement gathered at Aabpara Chowk and marched towards World Bank offices in G-5 sector. Holding red flags, dozens of workers of left-wing political parties -- Workers Party Pakistan (WPP), Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), Awami Party Pakistan (WPP) – National Student Federation (NSF), trade unions, intellectuals and civil society participated in the rally.
The protesters scuffled with police when they were stopped from reaching the offices of World Bank in the Red Zone to register their protest against what they called its anti-poor policies and to show solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The ‘Occupy Islamabad’ rally faced strong resistance from the police deputed at the checkpoint near NADRA offices.
The protesters told the police that they will not cross the security checkpoint eyeing the World Bank (WB) office hardly hundred feet away. However they reached their intended destination after the confusion was cleared on the intervention of senior police officers and some leaders of the rally. A good number of police officials were stationed at the gate of the WB offices.
“We are the 99 per cent. We are against the capitalist system that has failed to deliver justice to the people,” said Farzana Bari, an academic and women rights’ activist echoing the sentiments of the protesters on Wall Street in New York City, who oppose the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one per cent of Americans.
Addressing the rally, she said more than 80 per cent of the country’s wealth was in the hands of merely two per cent of its population.
“The people who are producing the wealth are not its owners. The working class is suffering despite all their labour.”
The protesters through a charter of demands which was handed over to the World Bank officials asked them to leave Pakistan alone, so that it could decide its economic and social fate. They chanted slogans against capitalism. One of which was ‘Sarmayadari ka jo yaar hai, ghaddar hai ghaddar hai’ (Whoever sides with capitalism is a traitor).
“We have been speaking against it for decades. Now the world is realising that capitalism had taken the world towards barbarity and there is a need for meaningful alternative that saves the mankind and the natural environment,” said Aasim Sajjad of the Workers’ Party of Pakistan.
He said the Occupy Islamabad was only a small part of the initiative against capitalist system that was launched decades ago by the socialist and leftist parties.
“After the cold war they said socialism had died. We continue to insist it did not. Now the world can see that it has not died. These anti-capitalist rallies and protests are largely inspired by the socialist system,” added Sajjad, a sentiment that many governments around the world are being forced to confront as a result of the Occupy Wall Street sympathy protests, which are all demanding fair distribution of wealth and the realignment of economic policies to create egalitarian systems that provide access to basic rights including health and education.
Then there is also the obvious inspiration from the New York protesters, who, in line with the US Declaration of Independence, are demanding their right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, which is commonly called the American dream.
Why did they protest in front of the World Bank office and not the stock exchange?
The protestors said that while the Wall Street protests have called attention to the devastation of capitalism in the United States and the first world, capitalism in Pakistan means the devastating impacts of privatisation and restructuring in state enterprises.
Almost all the major World Bank-funded mega water initiatives such as the LBOD and Taunsa Barrage Project had failed, they said.
Nisar Shah of the LPP, Azam Janjua of the Socialist Movement Pakistan, Alia Amirali of the NSF, Ayub Malik of the APP, Abdullah Dayo of the Progressive Youth Forum and numerous trade unionists also spoke at the occasion.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2011.