Games of violence in Lahore

Eight innocent lives were lost on Tuesday in Lahore as a result of a police attack on the residence of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri. Apparently, the police was sent there to remove barricades but what ensued was a bloody battle. The scenes on our television screens looked right out of some autocratic state where state brutality is a norm. One could hardly believe they were being beamed live from the middle of Lahore, the capital of Punjab.

According to the the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), “This is not the first incident in which the lack of police training and their capacity for crowd control without violence has been badly exposed. It is not likely to be the last. In fact, Tuesday’s incident makes it abundantly clear that there are no bounds to police brutality in action against political rivals of the parties in power.”

Police brutality is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan but firing live bullets on protesters, no matter how unruly they are, is not how democratic governments go about it. The order to remove those barriers reportedly came directly from the Punjab government, but in trying to show Dr Qadri and his supporters who the real ‘boss’ is, the Punjab police went overboard and ended up spilling innocent blood.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was at a loss for words at his press conference. The responsibility now lies with him and his government to actually punish the culprits. The Punjab government and CM Shahbaz Sharif are known for coming down hard on their political rivals but one cannot comprehend how they could have given orders to shoot protesters. Thus, it is very important to find out who ordered that the shots be fired.

There are many who think that moves were afoot to destabilise the Nawaz Sharif regime way before this incident took place. When the likes of the Chaudhry brothers, Sheikh Rasheed and others joined the Qadri bandwagon, it seemed like a conspiracy hatched to either oust the Sharif government or weaken it. Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri is known to be an establishment stooge, who has quite a following in this country despite being a Canadian citizen. There was already tension between the military establishment and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but the North Waziristan operation and an alleged deal on the Musharraf trial resolved the issue to a certain extent. Just when it seemed that the military and Sharif were on the same page again on these issues, the Lahore incident took place.

While there is no justification whatsoever for the deaths of innocent people, the timing is suspect. The military has certainly gained popularity because of the North Waziristan operation. The entire nation seems to be behind the armed forces in their fight against the Pakistani Taliban. Some analysts believe that the Lahore incident will either be used to cut Mian Nawaz Sharif to size by turning him into a lame-duck prime minister or it will pave the way for a technocratic setup. Unless the Sharif government deals with this issue properly and refrains from violence when Dr Qadri arrives in Pakistan, it will lose the game.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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