Another surrender


AFTER three days of protests, destruction of property, closure of roads and highways and massive disruptions to the daily life of citizens, the government appears to have found a solution: agree to the protesters’ demands.


Seemingly already consigned to the dustbin of history is Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech on Wednesday; yet another government has capitulated to violent religious extremists who neither believe in democracy, nor the Constitution.

Take a look: Khan’s finest hour

Perhaps the PTI government will argue that an agreement negotiated with the protest leaders does not make illegal concessions and the government has only pledged to let the law — and the appeals process — take its course.

But the law had already taken its course and an innocent woman was to be set free after a hellish, near-decade-long ordeal. It is the protesters against whom the law now needed to take its course.

Yet, the woman expressly declared innocent by the highest court in the land is to be kept in legal limbo, while the protest leaders have had to issue a half-hearted, one-line apology seemingly added as an afterthought to the agreement reportedly signed last night.

Perhaps Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government decided that, despite Mr Khan’s nationally televised address this week, a hands-off approach that allowed the protesters to vent their rage would allow the country to return to a semblance of normality quicker than a confrontational approach and potentially bloody clashes between the protesters and law enforcement. And perhaps the murder, possibly assassination, of Samiul Haq last evening caused some in the government to panic and recommend a swift end to the original protests before JUI-S supporters possibly took to the streets.

But what is already apparent is that the first-time governments of the PTI at the centre and in Punjab are struggling to coordinate, decide policy and implement decisions.

The days ahead will reveal whether the dysfunction and uncertainty at the heart of government are carrying the country deeper into the morass of extremist violence. Other institutions will also have to look at their own conduct in recent days.

Despite the shocking and unacceptable allegations made by the protest leaders against the military leadership and blatant calls for mutiny in the armed forces, the institution remained, at least publicly, on the sidelines.

Yesterday, when the DG ISPR at last addressed the ominous security situation in the country, he spoke in relatively soft words and urged the protesters to follow a lawful course.

Meanwhile, and in stark contrast to recent times, the superior judiciary appears to have decided that it would speak only through written judgements and took no suo motu action against those who called for the execution of superior court justices.

Pakistan, it would seem, was a country with no real leadership while chaos and anarchy spread in the streets once again. The repercussions could quickly manifest themselves in the days ahead.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2018

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