The female party members of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) are staging a sit in at Mall Road today. They will protest not having received justice for the Model Town massacre even after three years.  The stage has been set near Istanbul Chowk. Generators, fans and lights have been arranged at the venue. The doors to the Punjab University and the Lahore Museum on Mall road have been shut to safeguard public institutions.

Earlier, Lahore High Court imposed Section-144 in the area banning all rallies and political activities on the Mall, but the party has chosen to go ahead with its protest.

This demonstration of agitation violence in Pakistan is not historically unprecedented. Pakistan has a colorful history of street violence that emerged as a dissident voice during military regimes as well as civil governments.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines agitation violence as: political strategy in which the techniques of agitation and propaganda are used to influence and mobilize public opinion. Other interchangeable terms include dharna, protest, sit—in and street violence.

The first significant incident of political turmoil occurred during General Major Iskandar Mirza’s tenure as President during 1956-58. The passage of the first constitution of Pakistan in 1956 declared a parliamentary form of governance in the country. Iskandar Mirza was at odds with the parliament, and the strife resulted in the resignation of three Prime Ministers in two years. With the ongoing conflict between the President and the Parliament, politicians took to streets to oppose Iskandar Mirza’s rule. Consequently, the constitution of Pakistan was dissolved in 1958 and martial law was imposed as General Ayub Khan came to power.  

The next major movement began in 1965. After the war against India, industrial progress slowed down, prices hiked up and unemployment rates increased. The public was becoming restless and there were calls for restoring democracy. This movement was spearheaded by the National Students Federation (NSF).  Ayub tried to use force to tackle the protestors. In November 1968, police opened fire at a rally of students in Rawalpindi, which increased public opposition to the military dictatorship. By this time, major politicians such as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had decided to join the movement. Due to high unemployment rates, industrial workers and intellectuals also lent their voice to the struggle.

Another important movement of street protest emerged against Bhutto’s rule in 1977. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) had won the general elections in 1977 with majority however the leaders of PNA (Pakistan National Alliance) leveled allegations of election rigging at the party. The leadership of PNA included representatives of nine parties that had come together against the ruling party. They staged demonstrations, boycotted National Assembly sessions and opposed the election outcome. Bhutto managed to reach a compromise with the PNA that had extensive public support, but not before the military powers intervened. Bhutto was thrown in jail and Zia-ul-Haq came to power in July, 1977.

Then, in 1981, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) formed against the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq. The movement was formed out of a left-wing alliance, fueled by Zia’s execution. The movement carried out protests in major cities of interior Sindh, and had next to no influence in Punjab. Zia’s regime used force against the demonstrators which resulted in many civilian deaths. Army influence was used to curb in the protests. The movement withered away due to the divide created by Zia’s announcement for general elections in 1985.

The 90s were a decade of political turmoil. In 1992, the late Benazir Bhutto, marched against the first Sharif government, on charges that the general elections had been rigged. The pressure forced then-President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan to dissolve the Sharif government; however it was reinstated on May, 1993.  

Next year, Benazir Bhutto led another march to the capital, which was sealed. The strong opposition forced Army to crackdown on the Nawaz government, and the Army chief General Waheed Kakar forced Nawaz Sharif to resign.

In 2008, General Musharraf dissolved the judiciary and deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary along with sixty other judges. This led to a nationwide lawyers’ movement, resulting in the first long march that asked for the restoration of judiciary. The judges were restored for a short time, before Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, and sacked the top judge for a second time.

Then in 2009, a second long march was announced under Asif Ali Zardari’s government. This time led by Nawaz Sharif, the march was called off when the protestors reached Gujranwala, and the judiciary was restored.

In February 2013, Hazara protesters arranged a sit-in with dead bodies of their relatives and loved ones that had been victims of the Quetta bombing that resulted in 89 deaths. The victims were primarily members of the Shia ethnic Hazara community. The protestors refused to bury their dead until their demands were met. The government managed to reached a compromise with the protestors.

Between October 2013 and March 2014, a long march was held by the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons. Led by Mama Qadeer, these people protested the disappearance of their loved ones who had been picked up by security agencies. They walked a distance of about 2,000 kilometers on foot, marching from Quetta to Islamabad, passing through Karachi. However, the activists failed to make their demands met.

Then, another major sit-in was held by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), headed by PAT Chief Doctor Tahir-ul-Qadri. The protestors marched from Lahore to Islamabad and settled down at D-Chowk on Jinnah Avenue for four days. The march resulted in successful negotiations between PAT and representatives of then—government.

The last major sit-in was the Azadi or Tsunami march organized by Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) Chair Imran Khan that lasted from August to December 2014. The protest was called by Imran Khan oncharges of rigging in the 2013 general elections 2013 by PML (N). The protest resulted in exercise of violence against civilians, and media outlets that were sympathetic with the opposition. Imran Khan called off the protest in December, in responce of the terror attack on Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar.

This form of politics has been implemented through various avenues in the history of Pakistan, and has been a major force for destablising state institutions through the decades.