Gov’t employees, farmers stirs rock Pakistan

By Juan Carlos

Facing economic distress and rising prices of essential commodities, government employees and farmers have launched their separate stir forcing police to conduct arrests and fire teargas shells.

The woes of the federal government increased as employees of Balochistan and Punjab provincial governments also joined the stir.

This adds to the agitation by 11 opposition parties, forming Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) that staged yet another protest rally in Hyderabad last Monday, demanding removal of Prime Minister Imran Khan who they say is a ‘puppet’ of the military.

In Islamabad, police resorted to tear gas shelling near the Pakistan Secretariat on February 10 as they tried to push back government employees who were protesting for a pay rise.

Several employees were arrested and those stuck in the Secretariat Block broke the door to escape.

Protests were being held at several different points of the city, including Constitution Avenue, outside Secretariat Block and Cabinet Block, newspaper site reported.

A protest held outside the National Press Club was joined by employees posted in Balochistan and Punjab. The protesters then moved towards the Parliament House.

Police placed containers on the roads, sealing off D-Chowk.

“The morale of the police is high [and] the situation is completely under control,” the police said in a statement as protests increased.
The government responded by dispatching four federal ministers to hold talks.

Information Minister Shibli Faraz said that the prime minister was “very concerned” about the issues being faced by government employees.

He stated that the premier has directed the ministries concerned to resolve the employees’ issues immediately. “He is very serious about this and wants the issues to be resolved.”

Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, who is part of the government’s 3-member committee holding talks with the protesters, said that the government wanted to give the employees a special allowance for the months before June.

“When [talks] started, we said we will give 24 per cent but they demanded [much more]. Calculations are being done [and] we are ready to talk.”

However, Khattak warned that the “government has limits” and it was ready to give increments according to what was suitable keeping in view the condition of the country and the treasury but “if they want it [on their own terms], it will be difficult”.

The minister said the government was “still ready to talk” to the protesters if they brought their demands within limits.

He said federal government would not take up complaints of employees from provinces. The Centre could only do something if it was related to its own employees.

“Provincial problems are solved by provincial governments because, after the 18th Amendment, we cannot order them to increase salaries.”

In Lahore, farmers’ agitation took a different turn as Raiwind police took into custody Chaudhary Anwar, who leads a faction of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) from his residence on Monday.

The farmers’ leader had led a protest around three months ago (November 2020) in the provincial capital, demanding Rs2,000 per 40kg wheat support price and Rs300 per kg for sugarcane, besides flat power rate of Rs5 per unit for the farm tubewells.

However, in the ensuing clash with police one of the protesters, Ashfaq Langrial, had died.

The opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz alleged the police action is aimed at forcing Mr Anwar to withdraw the petition he had filed for registration of a murder case against police over the protester’s death.

“The Punjab government had been pressing Chaudhry Anwar to withdraw his application for registration of the murder case. On his persistent refusal, the Raiwind police arrested him from his residence,” Punjab PML-N President Rana Sanaullah Khan alleged.

The ‘puppet government’ which had been claiming to champion the cause of farmers’ rights, is harassing farmers’ leadership through arrests, he said.

A police source told that Chaudhry Anwar was arrested from Multan by the Raiwind police on a complaint of an overseas Pakistani, who alleged he had given Rs32 million in cash besides some machinery for an agriculture project to the farmer leader.

The complainant, whose name was withheld by the police, alleged life threats were hurled at him when he demanded his money back. (ends)

Juan Carlos commentates on matters International Affairs. He is an international affairs/geo-politics analyst