Who is Protesting in Pakistan? Businessmen, Doctors and Academics.

Posted on April 6, 2011
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Education, Law & Justice, Society
Total Views: 48564

Adil Najam

News from Pakistan (at least the television variety) is always full of protests. Everyone seems to be forever protesting about something or the other. But the protests flashing on the screens right now do seem qualitatively different.

Guess who is protesting right now: businessmen, doctors and academics.

The three protests are distinct, unrelated, and none of them is really clear-cut. And let us be honest: at this point each of the three is a relatively small protest in terms of what protests (and tolls of protests) in Pakistan can be. Small-business owners in Karachi are protesting against extortionists and law enforcement’s inability to provide protection but in the process are themselves embroiled in infighting and divisions (news here). Younger doctors in government hospitals the Punjab and elsewhere have been on strike to protest against what seems like truly abysmal working conditions and salaries but in the process have also caused much anguish to poor patients (news here). And academics have come out in support of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and against its devolution to the provinces as a result of the 18th Amendment, but really out of the fear that this move will squander whatever benefits HEC has brought to academia and academics (news here).

The three sets of protests have no obvious connection between them, each is complicated, and none can be discussed in simple black and white terms. Yet there are at least two key characteristics of these three cases (especially when taken together) which helps to shed light on the polity that is today’s Pakistan.

First, in the context of what they are protesting about right now, these are three very unlikely sets of protesters. None of the three have a proclivity to come out on the streets in this way on such issues. Whether you consider their demands or their tactics to be justified or not (and there is plenty of room for disagreement there) you should pay attention to the fact that their coming out on the streets signifies a level of frustration within these otherwise sober constituencies. A frustration that should not be underestimated or overlooked.

Second, although all three issues have now become politicized – as everything in Pakistan’s highly charged political climate is bound to become – it is clear that none of the three is a partisan political issue at its core, or began as such. Political parties and operatives have pounced on the issues because they sense the issues to be charged, but the issues themselves began as and remain at their core issues that relate to the loss of livelihoods and economic frustrations. Politics – in the sense it is bandied about on our talk shows – is not the driver here; if anything it is the ‘driven.’

Protests over petrol price hikes or over tax proposals are also economic protests, and protests over the acts of unknown and protests over pastors sitting four continents away or over ‘outside actors’ or as acts of sectarian insolence are always happening, but all of these are are now well-rehearsed political affairs. We know who protests, why, how and politicians know exactly how to capitalize on the sentiments – which are indeed very real and strongly held – that underlie such demonstrations.

But it seems that what we are seeing in these three examples – small business owners, doctors and academics – may be something different. Maybe something less politically charged, but also more politically significant: a manifestation of rising frustration with failures of livelihoods and institutions. When unlikely actors come out to protest in unlikely ways on unlikely issues, one is best advised to sit up and notice. The impulse of political expediency will be to reap whatever short-term political benefit can be had in riding these issues. The demand of political maturity is to recognize such acts as early warning signs of what could turn into much more deep and dangerous fissures – a crumbling of trust in the institutions of state as well as of society – and to act before things spiral down any further.

One hopes that political maturity will trump political expediency in these cases. In Pakistan politics, however, that is usually not a safe bet to make.

15 responses to “Who is Protesting in Pakistan? Businessmen, Doctors and Academics.”

  1. sadie says:

    @ mr.tayyab u should better keep such nonsense in ur head,rather than giving comment on such kind of issues that u know nothing about,especially on a public platform like this! u think a 14 hrs training makes u well trained & groomed enough,for a highly paid job.& DOCTORS who spends 48 hrs in hospital under stressful conditions,saving the lives of many patients & at the same time dealing with the bad behaviour of the attendants,(who r never satisfied…..)is not deserving enough to get a handsome salary to fulfill the needs of their families.and mind u these 48 duty hrs don’t include the lunch breaks or rest time that ur 14 hrs duty includes…..& a doctor stands for many hrs in the operation theatre or along the bedside of a critically sick pt. while the relatives r enjoying tea & juices outside.wake up man & open ur mind to see the facts before u analyze something……..

  2. Jameel says:

    Good analysis.
    It is disturbing when those you do not expect come out. But I do not think anyone is taking note. Those who are waiting for a revolution, this IS the revolution.

  3. Tayyab says:

    Doctors are protesting for a special treatment/pay scale like police and professors etc. but

    a) They may earn very high salaries in pvt. sector but in govt. sector it is best to keep the standard scales and not open new pandoras by special treatment

    b) Level of service/commitment by doctors in govt. sector is pathetic to say the least. I have personally seen doctors having 48 hours shifts spending most of the time sleeping/watching tv with patients being shooed away by orderlies for disturbing the “sahibs”.

    Young doctors who are protesting about the maltreatment should come in the private sector and see how high salaried engineers (for example) are being trained and groomed for the job. I remember regularly doing 14 hours shifts 7 days a week for months. Compared to what private sector goes through for high salaries these “sahibs” are living a dream.

    I say if they want high salaries they should prove themselves worthy of the same.

  4. Rafiuddin says:

    Excellent piece.

    The permanent culture of protest is disturbing but what we are seeing here is a total failure of governance and that is what is triggering this new type of protests from these ‘unusual’ groups. We should worry about this if we worry about Pakistan.

  5. Anita says:

    A doctor’s starting salary is 18000 rs.and PG’s is 22000.rs.with a routine of 36 hrs of duty.Will anyone make a budjet with this amount for a middle class family.?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *