By Ayaz Amir
If this was Srinagar, and the Indian army had been trying to quell a crowd of Kashmiri demonstrators, we would have understood. We would have shaken our heads but we would have understood. Although even there the savagery and the mindless brutality of the Lahore police on supporters of Dr Tahirul Qadri would have seemed excessive.
The Indian army and the Indian police don’t have much of a reputation for being gentle in dealing with unruly Muslim protesters. Even so, when was the last time nine people, including two women and a youngster, were shot dead in cold blood in Srinagar? In addition to the dead there are around 30-40 people with gunshot wounds in hospital. When was the last time this happened across the Line of Control? When was the last time this was the tally of the dead and wounded in East Jerusalem or the West Bank?
And this wasn’t Hamas-ruled Gaza, the West Bank or Occupied Kashmir. This was Lahore and one of its better residential colonies. The chief minister lives in the same locality. But that evening when he addressed a press conference looking ever so contrite, he gave the impression that all this happened over his head. This from someone known as a hands-on chief minister…virtually half the city’s police force deployed against the Minhajul-Quran secretariat, the locality looking like a battlefield and resounding with the sound of gunfire for hours on end, and the chief minister in blissful ignorance.
He has offered to resign should the judicial commission set up to inquire into this incident hold him responsible. Thanks to brave TV coverage the entire nation was a witness to what went on. Were the CM’s eyes closed? Had his doctors advised him to switch off his TV set? Did no one from his huge staff tell him what was happening? Reminds one of Osama bin Laden. We either knew his whereabouts and were thus complicit, or we knew nothing and were thus grossly incompetent. CM Punjab can’t have his cake and eat it. He is either culpable or incompetent. But let’s not hold our breaths. No one is about to fall on his sword.
The PM’s office, putting words into the PM’s mouth, comes out with this gem: “No one could be and would be allowed to put the country’s peace and security at stake”…a scarcely-veiled reference to Dr Tahirul Qadri. Huzoor, your own brother is ruling Punjab. No one else has imperilled the country’s peace and security. The strategy is yours and there is little to beat it: the army launches an operation in North Waziristan while you launch an operation in Model Town, Lahore.
Except for the most gullible, few people would buy the nonsense about the necessity of having to remove the barriers around Dr Qadri’s house and secretariat. Those barriers were in place for the last four years, a high court order sanctioning their presence. Why were these not removed earlier? Why now, just a few days before Dr Qadri was to arrive in Pakistan and launch his so-called ‘revolution’?
The Sharifs have a string of residences in Lahore, around all of which are barriers far more imposing than anything around Minhujul Quran. A thousand policemen guard the Raiwind palace. A thousand more line the CM’s route when he travels in Lahore. Why this sudden concern for just one set of barriers in the whole of the city?
This was about something else, something closer to the nightmares which haunt us in our dreams. Why are the Sharifs so afraid of Dr Tahirul Qadri? Why is he riding on their nerves so much? Why the frenzied meetings in the information ministry about how to put the squeeze on Dr Qadri’s religious and education foundation, Minhajul Quran? The PPP, for all its other weaknesses, was more skilful on this count, sitting out his dharna and seeing it fizzle out. The Sharifs have gone and shot themselves in the foot.
Dr Qadri has his share of critics. Trying to belittle him and ridicule him has indeed become a liberal pastime. Who is this man with the funny hat? Where is his container (which he used during his Islamabad dharna)? Send him back to Canada. These are some of the enlightened voices heard. Liberal champions and media stalwarts who find it difficult to gather a crowd of two or three dozen people for a worthy cause feel no qualms in turning their withering fire on someone who can gather people in their tens of thousands. So perhaps the Sharifs know something the armchair samurai don’t.
Still, the critics need to be more logical and consistent. Their principal charge against Dr Qadri is that he is playing someone else’s game – this a not-so-subtle allusion to GHQ and ISI. Even if we take this at face value, if Dr Qadri is trying to stir the political pot – his constitutional right, by the way – with the military engaged in North Waziristan he couldn’t have hoped for much help from that quarter. Unless we think the army to be so good and efficient that it is capable of taking on the Taliban, taming the media and paving the way for ousting the civilian order all at the same time.
So, all that the Sharifs had to do was to retain their cool. But when blinders come down on your eyes and, as the Urdu expression has it, curtains come down on your senses then you do what happened in Model Town. You defy rationality and do the unthinkable. Or perhaps this is the way of the gods. Whom they would destroy, as per Euripides, they first make mad. What happened in Model Town was madness pure and simple. There is no other explanation.
When the police began their operation, did even their angels suspect that by the time it was over Gullu Butt, a police tout and a PML-N worker, would become a household name across the length and breadth of the country? Gullu Butt and his stick-wielding antics an eternal metaphor for the ruling party…the PML-N will have a hard time living down the image of this joker.
These are bad times for the Sharifs. Nothing is working for them. They have messed up on too many fronts, mishandling smaller things and seeing them grow into bigger problems. But the Model Town fiasco surpasses everything. It is hard to see how the Sharifs can possibly swallow it and survive.
Worsening the plight of the ruling family are the antics of their chosen sidekicks. Whenever Rana Sanaullah and Saad Rafique open their mouths another quantum of sympathy for the Sharifs is lost. Folly and cruelty are misfortune enough. There should be no need to add shamelessness to the list but the afore-mentioned loudspeakers have a talent for doing just that.
The television cameras told us something else. The police threw everything they had, including live bullets, at Awami Tehreek activists but they stood their ground and it were the police eventually, cutting a sorry figure, which had to leave the field of encounter. I hold no truck with Dr Qadri’s philosophy but I can’t help admiring the steadfastness and resolve of his followers. The two big parties have the votes…or used to. I say this because the PPP has been reduced to Sindh and the PML-N can’t remain the same after its serial blunders. But even if they still have the votes they do not have the muscle and steel.
Pakistan needs muscle and steel and Pakistan’s dynastic and oligarchic democracy – now tottering on its hind legs – can give it little of that.
Tailpiece: I feel sorry for Gullu Butt. He is becoming a scapegoat for the follies of the ruling party. He only smashed a few car windows and acted tough before the cameras. But who gave the orders to shoot? Who gave the orders that the Minhaj secretariat was to be conquered at all costs? The real Gullu Butts are those who gave the orders.