After the unravelling of the strike
The right course to follow
As the PIA strike unravels the government has been careful not to provide any fresh provocation to the striking employees. The four Joint Action Committee members taken away by plainclothes men from Karachi last week were released. Another office bearer from Rawalpindi, picked up on Monday, was also subsequently set free. Meanwhile the legal process has been set in motion by notifying the strikers that after the invocation of the Essential Services Act, the strike is illegal and would entail punishment under the law.
With the pilots returning to their job after PALPA broke ranks, the strike lost much of its fervour. It would not be possible to continue it for long. The leadership of the strikers should have withdrawn the call after the government postponed the privatisation for six months and negotiated a realistic deal. Political parties like the PPP and PTI acted hypocritically by opposing the imposition of the Essential Services Act as the former had itself taken recourse to it when in power and the later is using it to deal with the striking doctors in KP. The parties strengthened the infantile tendencies in the strikers instead of acting as a bridge between them and the government. Thus PIA was made to suffer huge losses while a number of workers might lose their jobs after the failure of the strike.
The government is no less to blame for secretive behaviour and lack of transparency while going for PIA’s privatisation. The PML-N election manifesto made no mention of PIA’s privatisation. It looked like an abrupt decision. There were no preparations to make the airline’s sales worthy. Similarly, the government failed to evolve a golden handshake scheme for redundant employees to implement the decision peacefully and with least damage. One will have to see how the government goes about privatising other enterprises to judge if it is wiser after the PIA strike. The government needs to create a prior consensus with the opposition and the unions before it proceeds in the direction.
Imran Khan’s observations and demands of the government at the half-way mark cannot really be argued with. That fuel prices and electricity tariff should be reduced is a justified demand, as is the call to rehabilitate PSEs instead of rushing head-first into senseless privatisation. And streamlining the FBR, expanding the tax base, and repatriating money stashed abroad were actually PML-N promises on the campaign trail. It is the duty of all political forces, especially opposition parties, to remind the government what it has not done, and question it whenever it crosses the line.
Imran’s threats, on the other hand, are a cause for considerable concern. Once more he’s threatening street protests and what not unless his demands are met. Clearly the course of events has made little impression on his obsession with dharnas. Not many have forgotten how the joint venture with PAT ran out of steam in Islamabad when the ‘third umpire’ refused to play ball; and how he would have struggled with finding a face-saving retreat if not for the Peshawar tragedy. Still, though, he’s all for jamming the streets, and the system, unless everybody agrees with him.
Perhaps if PTI spent as much energy pushing for reform in the House as it does protesting on the streets it would have had a better chance of pressurising the government and pushing its corrective agenda through. Also, improving governance in KP would make a more compelling case for change than pouring his hordes onto streets once again. It would be more parliamentary and more democratic. And it would make the party more attractive for the Baloch, for example, than promoting anti-government agitation. Yet the party, just like others in parliament (especially the government), does not seem too concerned about the sanctity of the House. Once more, therefore, PTI is saying the right things, but going about the wrong way to have itself heard.