By late afternoon on Sunday 31st August 2014 the Battle of D Chowk remained in the balance but there were going to be no winners, only losers. The battle started on the evening of the 30th August when Imran Khan urged his supporters to advance on the PM house and there wait peacefully for the oft-demanded and never given resignation of the PM. Dr Qadri urged his supporters forward in step with those of his co-revolutionary and the stage was set for violent confrontation because this was never going to end peacefully. There will be an endless dissection of the circumstances in which violence broke out, but it is something of an irrelevance. The police are reported to have been ordered to use non-lethal munitions such as tear-gas and rubber bullets, the protesters were quickly revealed as far from peaceful, armed with sticks and slingshots and backpacks full of rocks, and battle was joined.
The protesters used a truck to breach the gates of parliament but the police lines held amidst clouds of tear-gas, there was no discharge of live rounds, and by midday on the 31st the casualty list was three confirmed dead and anywhere between 300 and 500 wounded, mostly with injuries unlikely to prove fatal. There were some synchronized protests in Karachi and Lahore but the rest of the country remained peaceful for the most part, and the called-for popular uprising never materialised. Far from flocking to the revolution, the numbers of protesters dwindled as the night wore on.
The political protagonists remained obdurate and it appears that the seventh round of talks between the government and Imran Khan and Dr Qadri were deemed a failure. The protesters had failed to dislodge the Nawaz Sharif government, and they had failed to ignite any national desire for the ouster of the incumbents that translated into spontaneous action. The government had failed to provide national leadership and the PM appeared to be little more than a mute glum cypher. His government had appeared leaden-footed and slow to grasp or manage the evolving confrontation.
The involvement of the army as an honest broker between the government and those seeking its downfall, was clumsily handled and quickly deteriorated into an argument about semantics. It was also roundly condemned by politicians of all parties, particularly as the PM had so publicly reposed his confidence in the ability of parliament to resolve the crisis. Even if he survives to fight another day Nawaz Sharif is seriously weakened, and unlikely to play much of a role in shaping foreign policy or managing the relationship with India, both now reportedly in the hands of the military.
Imran Khan and Dr Qadri had painted themselves into their respective corners. Dr Qadri is not a mainstream political figure and may melt away as he did two years ago, but Imran Khan leads the third largest party in Parliament, and he has some hard questions to answer not least from his own MNAs and party office holders. His decision to order the protesters to march on the PM house and cross the ‘Red Line’ was said by Javed Hashmi to have been made after Imran Khan received a messages. The content of the messages were not revealed; but very soon after Imran Khan made a unilateral decision to move his troops – against what he had agreed with his own Core Committee. Within the hour the Battle of D-Chowk was joined.
It was covered by the media who became casualties themselves as they were brutally attacked by the police several times, and PTI supporters attacked the offices of a media house; but the most gravely wounded at the end of the day was Pakistan. The incompetence and immaturity of our political cadre stood exposed. Billions have been lost in revenue. It may take years to recover and the Battle of D Chowk is not over yet.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2014.
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