Only three people walk tall today. These three giants tower above a horde of pygmies because they have displayed what pygmies have not: compassion, courage and conviction.
And yet the compassion, courage and conviction of these three giants have been betrayed by the very people who were mandated to uphold the mantle of the State. Some call this agreement between the government of PTI and the regime of Khadim Hussain Rizvi as a tactical victory. Some call it exemplary prudence. Yet others term it the best possible solution under the circumstances.
In reality, it is nothing more than craven surrender.
But wait. The writ of the government and the State has not been weakened. No, not at all. The writ, per se, very much exists, for in its absence, there would have been a free-for-all. But would you call the events of the last few days a ‘free-for-all’? Everything that has ravaged this country — the looting, arson, violence, murder, blockade and incitement to mutiny — all this has happened under one authority, one direction, one command.
The writ of the government and the State has not weakened. It has been replaced by the writ of Khadim Hussain Rizvi and the TLP.
Surprised? Shocked? Scandalised?
Who decides our children go to school or not? Khadim Rizvi or Imran Khan? Who decides if we go to offices and factories and other places of work or not? Rizvi or Khan? Who decides if public transport plies the roads? Rizvi or Khan? Who decides bazaars and shops stay open or closed? Rizvi or Khan? Who decides if the ambulances pass through barricades or not? Rizvi or Khan? Who decides if motorways are open or closed? Rizvi or Khan? And who decides when normalcy should return to the country? Rizvi or Khan?
Khan may have won the election, but it is Rizvi who seems to be ruling Pakistan today.
The state of the nation is open to interpretation as Pakistanis limp back to their normal lives over the weekend. It is a state in which the State has bled its authority and called it wisdom; a state in which the State has renounced its fundamental duty to protect its citizens and called it prudence; a state in which the State has vacated its space for the protesters and called it strategic retreat. In doing so, the State has done what it has been doing for decades — bringing the extremists in to keep them out. Every single time, the State has failed. Every failure has diluted its authority and will to stand firm. Every dilution has heightened the insecurity of its citizens.
Today Imran Khan has the force of the State behind him but he lets protesters drag a man out of a car and beat him in front of his children — and does nothing. So much for the force he commands. Today Imran Khan has the mandate of the people behind him but he lets protesters burn cars, loot shops and destroy property of the very people who voted him into office — and does nothing. So much for the mandate he commands. Today Imran Khan has the support of the mighty Establishment behind him but lets the protesters incite mutiny within the institution and ridicule its chief — and does nothing. So much so the force he commands.
Our leader may not have played the harp while Pakistan burnt, but he did jet off to China. Who was in command while the nation was being beaten into submission? Fayyazul Hasan Chauhan?
Of course there’s no shortage of people who will drum up justifications for the lack of options that the government had in dealing with the protesters. Of course there was a lack of options. But who told Imran Khan running Pakistan was a walk in the park? What else is the government supposed to do if not take hard decisions from among impossible options? People say this was yet another test that Khan has miserably failed as the nation’s Prime Minister. Ladies and gentlemen, this was no test. Locking down the entire country and holding the nation hostage is no test; it’s the real thing.
Imran Khan did not fail the test; he failed at his job.
Ask the family who was stuck on the motorway for two straight days; ask the young man who was beaten with rods in the streets of Lahore and his motorbike set alight; ask the bereaved whose loved one’s coffin lay in the ambulance that was not allowed to go to the graveyard, and ask the father who was tortured by these protesters in front of his wailing children — yes ask them all if they had a government in the last seventy hours. Ask them if there was a State looking out for them while they endured the suffering, humiliation and agony of being Pakistanis on the roads of Pakistan. Ask them and you shall have your answer.
There will be a series of articles extolling the complexities of governance in Pakistan; there will be a deluge of tweets and posts dilating upon the intricacies of political religiosity and there shall surely be hours upon hours of discussions delving deep into the linguistic, sectarian, civil and military fault lines, in our society — and yet…yet — nothing will succeed in whitewashing the ugly, grotesque and repulsive reality that the government and State of Pakistan walked away when Pakistan needed it most.
This realisation is like a punch in the gut. We have hundreds of thousands of armed law enforcers and we cannot protect our citizens from brazen and organised violence. We have firepower that can destroy the world but we are unable — and unwilling — to save a father from being beaten in front of his children by a deliberately enraged mob. We have the executive might to obliterate civil society’s difference of opinion but we fail to silence treasonous, mutinous and murderous talk against the fountainheads of official authority.
But three giants among this horde of pygmies still resist this deluge of bigotry, hate and intolerance. They sat on the bench and delivered a judgment that may act as a beacon in the darkness that threatens to engulf us all. The State may have gifted its writ to Mr Rizvi on a platter, and Khan may have surrendered at Lahore’s Charing Cross like his predecessor did at Islamabad’s Faizabad Chowk, but the battle for the soul of Pakistan is far from over.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2018.