Monday, September 1, 2014
OUR DARKEST HOUR
Saturday night (August 30, 2014) was a dark time in Pakistan’s history. Spurred on by Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan, workers from the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and Pakistan Teheek-e-Insaaf (PTI) formed a mob and attacked the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) House and the fenced compound that encloses the houses of parliament and the presidency. Veteran human rights campaigner Asma Jehangir, whose moral stature towers above these two riot instigators, had it right when she told a local television channel: “There is no such thing as peaceful banditry.” Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, despite their numerous claims of wanting peaceful protest, engaged instead in one of the most disgusting spectacles of mob violence this country has had the misfortune of seeing.
Saturday night’s events have already become obscured by controversy, but the sequence of events shows precisely where responsibility lies for the injuries and deaths among rioters and the police, and the destruction of public property. After presenting yet another deadline to the government for the PM’s resignation, Tahirul Qadri led from behind and ordered his workers to march towards the PM’s House while he sat in his car. Imran Khan had previously said he would not join in the invasion, making promises to the government and the military that these areas would remain sacrosanct. However, at the last minute, and reportedly against the majority consensus in his party, he decided to join his workers to Tahirul Qadri’s. They also told their workers to begin protests in other cities. The combined mob began to press towards the PM’s residence, but diverted and began leaping over and breaking the gates and fences surrounding parliament and the presidency.
After the police retreated literally to the doors of the presidency, this was the line drawn in the sand that the government could not ignore and when the mob turned towards the buildings, the police were forced to teargas them and drive them off the premises. The mob responded by attacking the police, using batons and rocks and the situation soon devolved into a full scale riot on the presidency grounds. Reportedly the protestors tried to force their way into the National Assembly (NA) but retreated when they saw the doors were guarded by army and Rangers personnel. No doubt they were told by their leadership not to engage the military. However, engaging the police was more than enough to turn the parliament grounds and Constitution Avenue into a veritable warzone, with rioters bent on causing destruction after being left with no clear goal in mind. In Lahore a mob assembled at Liberty Roundabout and began trashing storefronts and looting.
The riot in Islamabad lasted well into the morning though by then the mob of several thousand had dwindled to several hundreds. Three people were killed and hundreds injured, some by rubber bullets but most from exposure to teargas. Through it all Imran Khan was visible on top of his container, loudspeaker in hand, exhorting workers to charge the police, fight, and attack parliament. It was a sight so putrid that it beggars belief he has the gall to stand in front of the Pakistani nation again today and claim he is the victim. Apparently this realisation is dawning on PTI leaders too. Javed Hashmi and Shah Mehmood Qureshi were reportedly against the decision to join the riot and have not appeared beside Imran Khan since. After calling for a joint session of parliament for Tuesday, it is hoped that the government can quell the riots and bring the perpetrators to justice after imposing Section 144 in Islamabad, which prohibits large public gatherings, but one cannot rule out the possibility that fresh elections become inevitable, despite the PM’s legal mandate.
The country is now poised on the brink of an uncertain future and the situation is grave enough that COAS General Raheel Shareef moved up a corps commanders meeting to Sunday evening to discuss it. He must order the army to do its duty and protect the official residence of its commander-in-chief. With another battle in Islamabad looming, the next 24 hours may decide the future of this country.
Courtesy: Daily Times