The strike call for 12th December in Karachi was a tough & a strategic call made by Chairman Imran Khan on 30th Nov, it was a bold move to tactically increase pressure on the PML govt to rethink its negotiation strategy viz-a-viz to proceeding with an independent investigation of alleged election rigging in 2013. If peaceful protests for 120 days is not enough of a pressure tactic, it seems the govt needs to be physically shown that this is injustice in acceptable and proof of this contagious movement has taken a bigger momentum resonating all across Pakistan — Faisalabad on the 8th, Karachi on the 12th and soon Lahore on the 15th – Shutdowns are Pressure tactics to push for justice in Pakistan. What does one have to do, to get an investigation started in Pakistan? — When Push comes to shove, it seems shoving is then the order of the day.
Many supporters have a strong disagreement as to why PTI choose to adopt this strike strategy in Karachi, which to them resembles so much like the MQM-thug style politics and to make matters worse, images of burning tires were not helping as it portrayed violence, seemingly on the same track with MQM’s 30-min barrle of the gun-based shutter down calls seen too often in Karachi. Each Karachiite knows very well that the was a fundamental difference between MQM calling a strike and PTI appealing to people to join in a ShutDownToRebuild movement – Everyone knows that MQM uses militants on bikes roaming the streets and that this display interspersed with aerial firing, simply serves as the threat to establish the “voluntarily closure” along with other unfortunate tactics, they need not have to “work hard” to convince people, the guns do the convincing part quite well. PTI on the other hand DOES NOT SUBSCRIBE TO MILITANCY.
To organize the lockdown one must know the grass root dynamics of planning and ensuring a strike and I give credit to the PTI Karachi leadership to have understood the dynamics, planned well and executed to near perfection.
Before the shutdown there was a long debate on choosing to adopt the need to use tire burning strategy, but after a long discussion & a majority vote PTI teams allowed limited use of this method only for the sake of visual optics, but strictly NO threatening militant / armed strategy — only peacefully block roads, lobby aggressively, campaign and convince the public to join Imran Khan’s call to rebuild Pakistan. On the tire burning issue, I’m aware of many valid objections, I personally was a silent 50-50 spectator, personally felt we need to create the “environment” to be successful. So in part I would say I agreed, and hence I stand by the judgment call and the reason to write this blog post to explain why it was needed
A strike call in Karachi should be understood on a number of critical stages
Strong campaigning for the cause, car rallies, flyer distribution, aggressive media statements & timely press conference all helped keep the public informed of the plan. MQM played its usual dirty role, we had confirmed reports of sector in-charges calling shop keepers all evening, the day before, threatening them to open their shops on Friday in defiance or else…. There were also interesting rouge elements across Site & Korangi where a few armed men in bikes identifying themselves as PTI, giving out flyers (reportedly) and threatening to close business, what I found odd was that they came identified themselves as PTI (why?) credibility or discredibility tactic? the biggest giveaway is that PTI organisation in Site & Korangi is next to non-existent. I confirmed that these were Anti-PTI rogue elements masquerading as PTI, threatening and irritating the factory owners to have a reverse effect and factory owners were ready to open their business instead. So with a number of Anti forces working against us, we were genuinely worried that the pressure from sector in-charges & the rouge elements would have a drastic effect on our cause
7am: Establish your barricades
This is the most critical point — only die-hard activists are motivated enough to get up early and come out to the rally for support, usually means leadership and active workers, which in PTI are many but had to have the organization stress tested & divided over 30+ locations would have been a dicey gamble — To embrace a non-tire burning blockade you need the physical presence of hundreds of supporters to have “a convincing” road block, but early in the morning at 7am we in our hearts knew “hundreds” would not show up, so it was important to create enough visual optics to show the media that roadblocks were in effect. Had if we depended upon hundreds of workers showing up at 30+ locations, and tragical if they had not turned up, the visual optics would have been weak and the media & public would have perceived it as a failing strike
7am to 9am: Abundant Media and Social Media Hype
Immediately from 7am the social media team (hats of to the PTI Social Media teams) which started flooding images of blocked important intersection and sadly yes there were some tire burning images too, the media picked up these stories and started showing “favorable optics of blocked roads all across Karachi”. Tire burning provides easy optics of a blocked road, combined with the presence of PTI supporters (even a handful) ensured the media saw blocked roads and conveyed the same to the public – Tire burning in my opinion (biased) has no destruction of public property, it is visual impression which we needed to extract and nothing more probably , if you will, staged for the media. From 7am to 9am the media gathered enough story material to ensure the next phase of the strike to be successful
9am: Public wakes up to news of blocked streets and is convinced to stay home
Around 9am the public slowly tumbles of out of their bed to open their TV sets or social media feeds, showing images of blocked roads, with these optics the public is slowly convinced that the PTI has succeeded in establishing, it almost convinces the indivdiual to skip work and stay home, it is also then that to the relief to the timid shopkeepers who had received threatening calls from the sector in-charges to have the courage to say that they tried but could not get through, seemingly a credible excuse to overcome the fear & threat from MQM. They choose to stay home as well
10am: Some people attempt, some get thru, most stay home
With most public staying home – very few, tries to tempt their luck, PTI is not a fear-based threat and I personally saw many people approaching arguing and trying to convince to allow them passage, many were turned back, a few lucky to have convinced someone on some roadblock to let them through, committed travellers found alternate routes and by-passed the blocks and it is good they had clear and safe passage on those avenues – eg – Teen Talwar intersection was blocked by Ch Khaliq-uz-zaman road (Submarine-Askari-1) road was open.
Sindh Police / Traffic Police support
I will admit, and give credit where due, Sindh police was very cooperative, the only condition being, PTI be non-violent and in turn the police will ensure non-violence. The police was helpful that they setup barricades around the dharna locations diverting traffic to alteranate routes instead, infact they partly helped us, traffic diversions ahead of the blockades ensured most of the traffic pressure not to reach and challenge our locations, avoiding any uncessaray confrontation, had if these diversions not transpired, pressure on our roadblock volunteers would have increased and unnecessary confrontation, leading to issues as seen in Faisalabad
11am onwards: PTI Supporters join in hundreds to build human barricades
Our supporter is a causal and a little timid Karachitte, which has seen unimaginable violence – waking up a little late, not being able to go to work, seeing peaceful protests, they start coming out to show support, had if this same sizable crowd showed up at 7am human chains would have been enough to barricade streets and no tire burning needed, but PTI reality is different, and the crowd buildup at all/most locations was festive, played cricket and just enjoyed waiting for Imran Khan sb’s arrival at 3pm, generally I believe no additional unnecessary tires were burnt beyond 9am or maybe 9:30am – the media hype and the subsequent crowd buildup ensured automatic blockade without violence.
Had if the Strike been a failure
Had if we not strategized well the early morning 7am effort, crowd failed to show up at 7 > no tired burning > no media hype, the public (also influenced by sector incharges) would have been forced to come out and attempt to test the PTI blockads, the weak human shields would not have sustained the traffic buildup and confrontations started, things could have gotten violent, and to be honest, PTI was never prepared with any form of violence of any sort, except probably sticks lying around for self defense as we denounce the use of guns throughout the organisation, had if the stike tuned out to be a failure the social media instead of harping about burning tyres would have been busy mocking the organizational failure of PTI Karachi to deliver a strike, and a major dent to the Imran Khan’s movement.
So having explained all the critical dynamics necessary for a real-life strike in Karachi i it is not a mere walk in the park, many important aspects have to be factored, I personally would have loved to see no tires burning, but it is in the larger picture necessary visual optics to set the media coverage in the right direction, tires were not public property, and as per all reports I have received there were no forced shop clousre, apart from shopkeepers not reaching there becuase of road blocks, but any who reached their shops opened and probably remained open throughout
As elections are not won on social media, it needs grassroot mobiliaaztion of polling officers etc to spin a victory, even strikes are not achieved on social media, it has needed clever planning avoiding the much known typical MQM-threat-style militant shutdown. PTI showed to Karachi that you can peacefully protest without guns and still be serious to force a city to shutdown
I unequivally appreciate the PTI leadership to have read the situation well – avoided all forms of threats (militant) methods but coordinated the lockdowns understanding the reality and dynamics of the city – SUCCESSFUL PEACEFUL STRIKE BY PTI IN KARACHI