Are Pakistani Anti-NATO Protests Effective?

Two Pakistani political parties are leading protest sit-ins on the roads that are used to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. But just how effective and wise is this strategy?

terrorist-drones-pakistan-natoThe two parties – Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat Islami (JI) – are coalition partners in the provincial government of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province. The sit-ins are being staged in Peshawar – the capital of KPK – which is the gateway to routes that connect northern Pakistan with Afghanistan.

The PTI-JI coalition is angry about US drone strikes in KPK. They are incensed in particular about the recent assassination of Hakimullah Mehsud – leader of the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – by a US drone. In blocking NATO supply lines they hope to pressure the US to stop drone attacks. Why would the PTI-JI led government of this troubled Pakistani province be upset by the assassination of an arch terrorist?

It seems they believe that the best way to bottle the TTP genie is by negotiation. And just prior to the drone strike some initial progress had been made in initiating talks between the government and TTP. But now, with its leader’s assassination, the TTP has called everything off and is threatening major mayhem by setting off bombs in Pakistani cities.

The wisdom of negotiation with the TTP, which over the past few years, has killed thousands of innocent people, is open to question. Yet, there is something even more surprising about the PTI-JI sit-ins. NATO supplies are provided by agreement with the Pakistani government. And both parties – the PTI and JI – sit in the national assembly of Pakistan.

This, rather than the streets of Peshawar, should be the forum where the demand to stop NATO supplies is made

Consider also that Peshawar is not the only supply route to Afghanistan. There is another route through the southwestern province of Balochistan. So even if the sit-ins succeed in closing supplies through Peshawar, the southern route would remain open.

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And the PTI-JI coalition would not achieve its objectives. That the coalition insists in extra parliamentary protests against the policy of a government of which it is part, if nothing else, shows disrespect for democratic traditions. Public sit-ins are not without risk. Party workers are exposed to the cold. Normal traffic is disrupted causing widespread inconvenience. There is the constant possibility of confrontation between the protestors and the police. Lives and property are at risk.

A safer, more effective, and honorable strategy would be for the PTI-JI government in KPK to take up this issue in the national assembly and seek an end to the agreement that allows NATO to ship its supplies through Pakistani territory.

Nadeem Qureshi is Chairman at Mustaqbil Pakistan. Nadeem is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, and is fluent in Arabic. Mustaqbil Pakistan is a Pakistani political party which believes that the country’s many problems stem from a single cause: Our politicians in general do not have the sincerity, competence, education and experience to run the country. Mustaqbil Pakistan’s raison d’etre is to provide a platform for the country’s best people to enter and compete in the political arena.