The government has imposed Section 144 in Islamabad for a period of two months which prohibits the congregation of more than five people, pillion riding and public display of weapons. According to the Islamabad Administration, the decision has been taken in view of security concerns. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) are likely to march on the Capital in the coming days, and the imposition of Section 144 means that their rallies will be in violation of the law. Other than providing legal cover for possible actions to be taken by law enforcement agencies in the future, the move doesn’t make much sense.
Historically, the imposition of Section 144 has done little to deter the public from gathering and protesting. Many consider it to be our colonial legacy. The law was introduced by the British to curtail public gatherings in the Indian Subcontinent. It may have worked to an extent back then, but now, it seems to have lost its magic. Most countries have abolished this law, owing to its ineffectiveness as well as the negative implications it carries for civil liberties and rights. In Pakistan however, it is applied under the pretext of law and order and just as frequently ignored by those it is meant to discourage. As far as the PTI is concerned, it has decided to put all its eggs in one basket and is set to march regardless. PAT, with Mr Tahir-ul-Qadri as its leader, couldn’t care less about Section 144. His actions will be guided by anything but the law.
So, really, what is this move supposed to achieve? How is this making the government’s job easier? Who does it empower? The Police is already free to act in the interests of public safety and order. The military personnel deployed in Islamabad already enjoy powers under Article 245. They can be called in aid of civilian powers whenever the government deems fit. Then, there are powers granted by the Protection of Pakistan Act. All Section 144 does is render PTI’s “Azadi March” illegal. And that matters neither to PTI nor to the general public. It’s like passing an order which everyone, include the authority issuing it, knows will be violated akin to the law prohibiting smoking in public places. It is hoped that the government will rely on political solutions to solve political problems.