The theatre of the absurd and irresponsible

Afridi’s statements hurt PTI because they portray an image of a political party constantly looking over its shoulder


Hassan Niazi November 13, 2018
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and also teaches at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He holds an LLM from New York University where he was a Hauser Global Scholar. He tweets @HNiaziii

‘Irresponsible’ is as mild a word as I can muster to describe the statements made by PTI’s Minister of State for Interior, Sheharyar Afridi, who accused the opposition of playing a role in the riots that recently held the entire country hostage. Such false statements harm not only the PTI’s own political position, but also, any chances of forging some semblance of unity amongst our political parties.

Mr Afridi’s statements hurt the PTI because they portray an image of a political party constantly looking over its shoulder. Wary of the enemy that surrounds it at all times. But this is paranoia and is not exactly a sign of a well-functioning democratic system. By blaming the opposition for the protests that were obviously organised by the TLP, a member of the PTI has once again tried to construct a narrative that places the PTI as a victim to a scheming opposition. This is our country’s tragedy. At a time when we need national unity the most, the PTI is busy in its favourite hobby: trying to delegitimise the dissenting voice of the opposition. We cannot unite it seems, not even in the face of an angry mob baying for the blood of our soldiers and judges.

That is of course just the irresponsible part of his statement. There is rather predictably an absurd part as well. One that goes something like this: many members of the TLP who were in custody were shown videos of the violent protests. Upon seeing the footage, and I assume widening their eyes in horror, they distanced themselves from the violence. This resulted in their release. In short: they were very sorry for the unfortunate protests and have no idea who those people damaging public property were. The question this raises is will everybody be afforded this new defence to avoid criminal prosecution? Will our criminal justice system now function by showing those accused of a crime footage of their offence and wait for them to bend the knee and repent? That is, after all, how the rule of law works. Everyone is to be treated the same. But the rhetoric regarding this aspect of the rule of law seems to only come out when we are holding pesky journalists, politicians, university professors and the like accountable for treason, contempt, sedition and corruption.

Mr Afridi assumed during his speech that those who want the rioters to be held accountable wanted bullets and bloodshed. But accountability is — thankfully, not as black and white as Mr Afridi makes it out to be. Such violent protests can be handled upon a gradient that offers many solutions. Extreme force lies at one end, total capitulation on the other. In between lie various other means for the state to uphold the rule of law. The PTI accuses its opponents of pandering to one extreme, while it went hurtling towards the other.

An example of nuance and the writ of the state not lying in tatters is how the 2011 London riots were handled by the government of the United Kingdom. The government immediately mobilised to defend the rule of law, instating 24-hour courts to fast-track the processing of offenders. By doing so, the government of the UK did what Imran Khan merely said he would do in his famed eight-minute address: enforced the writ of the state. Over 1,500 people were arrested in the aftermath of the London riots. No agreements were signed with the rioters; none of those arrested were released because they said ‘it wasn’t us’; no mass-shooting occurred.

Perhaps most shocking was how Mr Afridi seemed to view the PTI’s agreement with the TLP as a successful handling of the situation. The only sane voice within the PTI seemed to be Shireen Mazari, who in a tweet referencing to Chamberlain’s appeasement of the Nazis, made the same point. Yet we continue to make the same mistake over and over again. Why are we so beset on doing this?

Can we finally, finally, learn from these mistakes? We didn’t learn when we lost a governor; we didn’t learn when shrines were being erected in Mumtaz Qadri’s name; we didn’t learn when we made a compromise with the Taliban; we just don’t learn. And the consequences of our failure to learn fall upon our religious minorities. The PTI’s failure to uphold the writ of the state may have unbearable (and unforgivable) consequences for them.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2018.

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