Dear Islamabad, sorry

Published September 19, 2014
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

DEAREST Islamabad,

I have been meaning to say this for many weeks but have been too caught up in my own little messes to take time out for sending the important message across: I am so very sorry for having unleashed on you the two dharnas that have violated your peace and brought everyone in your serene lap to the edge.

Believe me I had no such designs. I made my own little estimates which hinted the marchers under Imran and Dr Qadri weren’t required to go the whole hog. All I thought they were required to do was to show the intent, stroll up to Gujranwala or Gujrat, maybe make a quick trip to Islamabad and return to their bases. It wasn’t my fault that the natural call never came and you had to put up with these hordes of the uncouth.

You will agree that I did not, or did not alone, invent these rogues. Even then I hold myself responsible for passing them on. Please forgive me for letting the marchers through my own weak defences. I now think they had no business being allowed out. They should have been contained then and here a month and a few days ago.

There have been routine packages sent to the capital and they have mostly been received well.

I tried to, honestly. A few of them were knocked off in Model Town that June afternoon. Containers were placed and a few concessions that I could think of were offered to the aspiring marchers, which unfortunately failed to keep them from moving on. That I sent some crude Punjab policemen to aid your own refined law enforcers I know is not enough compensation for the original error of judgement on my part.

There were, however, a few concessions I was not prepared to make to you from the outset. Nothing made me more uneasy than the suggestion that Shahbaz Sharif, my chief minister, should step down. He is too dear to me, admittedly dearer than the prime minister you have since rallied around to save and flaunt as the landmark on a difficult democratic journey. I was pretty sure — I am sure — that if one man was to be protected amid these unreasonable calls for resignations, it was my famed chief minister.

This is a bias I am not apologetic about amid all these shaming slogans whose chanters appear to derive some hideous pleasures from my recent troubles and yours. My prejudice for the younger Sharif is not something over which I am going to apologise to you. I am sorry simply for the sleepless nights caused to the democrats, the committed defenders of parliament.

Let me confess that I was a little unaware of the potential of the latest consignment sent your way. There have been routine packages sent from here to the capital and they have mostly been received well.

For example, so many faces that appear on the television screen had their origins here, so many names that do national politics sitting in Islamabad, names that write these inspiring commentaries in newspapers once belonged here. They crossed over and they made it big.

Little did I realise that they’ll be so offended by the latest batch of wayfarers from Lahore that they would be in the forefront of those dismissing the marchers and dharna activists as illegal and unconstitutional aliens belonging to Naya Pakistan — a country that is yet to be established.

And, as I have said before, I didn’t know that these hordes would be so bereft of the manners that others before them had acquired long time ago. That was an ugly sight to have these marchers chase down a boar in the capital earlier this week, but they didn’t have to go so wild for me to feel like someone who now regretted having pressed the trigger.

That feeling predated Imran Khan’s raid to free his party men from police custody or Dr Qadri’s addition of his own brief note to the Pakistani currency bills or the shameful song-and-dance that has polluted the Pakistani air where it should be the purest. The advance on parliament and on the Pakistan Television premises, the fights with the policemen, the beating of journalists who got a bit too nosey for their own safety at the dharnas — these were eye-openers only for those who weren’t watching earlier.

I had not been as indifferent. I knew the moment I saw those clothes left to dry on the grilles outside the Supreme Court. My worst fears were proven right when next I saw a bunch of men, improperly trying to hide their indecency under a baniyan or vest lining up for a shower on the road. This was not your weekly dip at the canal, a government ban on such unabashed spectacles notwithstanding. This was Islamabad and they were not at all a good advertisement for the Lahore that lay at their origins.

The condemnation that these dirty acts in public led to was obvious and impossible to avoid. I have been told that the filth generated by the protesters was not just an eyesore, it harboured dangerous germs capable of causing an epidemic or two. If this were not embarrassing enough for me, there were mentions how the protesters’ lashkars were promoting such evils in the capital as filthy speech and introducing it to flesh trade.

I know I have done more harm to you than I can possibly help you overcome. I am confident you have the capacity to clean up your house with your own trained, well-mannered force that you have developed over time and which is worthy of your uncomplicated hospitality. By way of an assurance let me tell you I will be more discreet and selective about the goods I dispatch in future. All you have to do is to find a way back for them and pack them up for the canal.

Yours inseparably, Lahore

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2014


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