Pakistan criminalised legitimate dissent: Daily

Islamabad, Feb 3 (IANS) The Pakistani government has “criminalised legitimate dissent” while attempting to push through its privatisation plan, said a daily which rued the death of three employees of the national carrier PIA during a protest in Karachi.

An editorial “Death and an airline” in the News International said that the best measure of the strength of a democracy is the government’s tolerance of dissent. “But once again what we have seen is a callous disregard for the norms of a healthy society.”

Just a day after legislation was enacted effectively outlawing strikes by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) employees for six months, protesting workers in Karachi were struck against with baton-charge, water canons and teargas as the protestors tried to make their way to the airport.

In the confusion and chaos that followed, three protestors were killed and many injured including media personnel.

“Both the Rangers and police have denied using lethal force, but the three employees were killed by gunshot wounds and suspicion has fallen where it tends to fall in such circumstances.”

The daily said that before the debate over the merits of privatisation is held, though, it needs to be made clear that the use of force and the violent language used by some government officials a day before were hardly justified, and workers unions should not have the right to peaceful protest taken away from them.

“In trying to push through its privatisation plan, the government has criminalised legitimate dissent and the prime minister too is now threatening the strikers with jail and job loss.”

The various PIA unions have long been blamed for the airline’s financial woes. “It is certainly true that the national carrier has one of the highest employees-to-aircraft ratios, and that political parties have used PIA as a way of giving jobs to their own workers, but this easy explanation overlooks decades of mismanagement.”

The daily went on to say that after “overreaction and the three deaths that must be inquired into, we have reached an impasse where reasoned dialogue will be difficult”.

It added that the worry now is “…politics will come in the way of investigating what transpired. It took only two days for an already bad situation to be worsened through a needless escalation”.

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