Protests against the privitisation of PIA took a deadly turn on Tuesday as clashes between the security forces and the protesters led to three deaths and over ten injured. Reportedly, the law-enforcement agencies charged the protesters with batons, firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters when the protests attempted to move towards the Sindh Assembly building. Camerapersons and reporters of various channels covering the attack were also attacked by the Rangers and the Police. This protest is the latest in the series of protests orchestrated by worker unions at PIA. The unions stuck to their call of closing down offices and protesting on February 2, 2016, after the government rejected the four-point agenda of the employees against privatisation. The government, on its part, did not deviate or give in to demands, but instead banned all union activity.

There was no reason to attack peaceful protesters, especially when they pose no threat to the government’s writ. The unions were fighting a losing battle until today. Privatisation was bound to happen given the burden of excess employees on the national flag carrier and other losses. With over 700 employees per plane, things have to change no matter what. As the protesters chant, ‘Go Nawaz go’, the government should realise that it has just shot itself in the foot. The PML-N government was completely justified in trying to privatise the national carrier, but now that blood has been spilt, the movement against it will garner more support. Already political parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islaami (JI) are trying to capitalise on this situation by joining the protesters. Before Tuesday, union workers had promised to stop PIA operations through their protests, while the government had promised that this would not be the case.

Today’s flight schedules continued almost uninterrupted until the protests took a bloody toll in the afternoon, which means that the government did not have to resort to such aggressive tactics. The biggest problem here is that those attacked during protests had no political agenda, but after the deaths of fellow employees, the unions of PIA will attempt to attach themselves to any political force that can further their cause. The government denies that the two men shot by real bullets were shot by security forces, but witnesses claim they saw the Rangers opening fire on two them. The government cannot deny that this was a show of strength and an attempt to scare the protesters into backing down. Pervaiz Rashid’s aggressive comments just a day before this instance about cutting the wings off the protesters belies the government’s real intentions. Considering that the government is not likely to be sympathetic to the loss of innocent lives, those that opened fire on the protest must be brought to justice if the government is still adamant on privatising PIA.