For about 100 days, people like me who work in the vicinity of the Constitution Avenue in Islamabad, this country’s seat of power, were subjected to humiliations of all sorts every day by Imran Khan’s and Tahirul Qadri’s supporters. Most of these scenes were kept hidden from the audience watching it at home or elsewhere at a comfortable distance. It so happened that immediately after the police check posts, the protesters had established their own posts. On these check posts, people going to their offices were usually accosted by a 10- to 12-year-old wearing a helmet and carrying a bat or a stick meant to intimidate people travelling in their cars or other vehicles. They were often subjected to insults, jeers and taunts, even threats. And this child was not alone. There were hordes of grown-ups behind him ensuring support. You could be asked to step out to be frisked, infinitely detained otherwise, and subjected to numerous other humiliations. Remember, this wasn’t merely the male population that had to face these hardships. And when you made it to your office, the presence of an army of protesters around your offices was hung like a sword of Damocles.
In this charged environment, you knew that if something went wrong, someone appearing on a TV screen would find an excuse to justify or rationalise it. This often transported me back to the days I once recounted in one of my columns some 13 years ago. Immediately after Pervez Musharraf’s military takeover, there were a number of press interactions. As a cub reporter/writer, I often got the chance to attend such gatherings. In one such meeting held in Islamabad, while passing through a security barrier I started sweating profusely upon the sight of an elephantine sniffer dog. A friend jokingly asked me if I was afraid of dogs. I told him generally this wasn’t the case, but if for any unknown reason the dog chose to pounce on me, it was likely the gunman standing right next to it would attack me rather than restraining it.
That is how security of VIPs works in this country. So we felt just like that. During the dharna days we knew if we were beaten or subjected to physical violence, somebody somewhere would find a way to tell the audience that we were asking for it. And the police also looked so helpless.
All of this just to do your routine job. There were fears and threats that cannot be described here. And what kept me going? Love of this country. To me it was unforgivable to let an unruly mob seize control of the nerve centre of the nation. But it was right there as a clear and present danger. It is a heartbreaking realisation to think that you are ready to be beaten to pulp for your country, but your country, or at the very least, its elite, loved your would-be assailants, not you.
In those days, the use of the megaphone was almost Pavlovian in nature. Day in and day out Imran Khan and his associates were heard talking about the conspiracy theory called the “painty paincher” (35 punctures). Day in and day out. I kid you not. That is how big the theory was back then. When our pied pipers brought this crowd to Islamabad, the first argument they gave to prove that their mandate had been stolen was this theory. And then there were anchors who claimed to not only have heard the tape containing the mention of painty paincher, but even possessed a copy of it.
So, when in a recent interview Imran Khan admitted sheepishly that the painty paincher theory was political in nature based on hearsay I did not know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe someday Imran sb will learn that things of such magnitude are no laughing matter.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2015.
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