IT is a surrender so abject that the mind is numb and the heart sinks.

The deal negotiated between the state, both civilian and military facets of it, and the Faizabad protesters is a devastating blow to the legitimacy and moral standing of the government and all state institutions.

In one brief page and six gut-wrenching points, the state of Pakistan has surrendered its authority to a mob that threatened to engulf the country in flames. The federal law minister has been sacked — in return for a promise by the protesters to not issue a fatwa against him.

Whether a decision made out of desperation or fear, the upshot is that the state has accepted that mobs and zealots have a right to issue religious edicts that can endanger lives and upend public order.

Read: List of demands put forward by TLY and accepted by govt for ending the Faizabad protest

The decision to compensate the protesters and use public funds to pay for the damage to property caused by the protesters turns on its head the fundamental responsibility of the state to ensure law and order. The pledge to prosecute whoever has been held responsible by a government inquiry committee for abortive legislative changes is to invite further protests and violence.

Something profound changed in the country yesterday and the reverberations will be felt for a long time. How has such catastrophe befallen the nation? Devastating incompetence and craven leadership by three sets of actors appear to be the reason.

The PML-N government helped create the crisis and then managed to exacerbate it at every step. Until the very end, when the government used the veneer of a court order to try and forcibly evict the protesters from Faizabad, there were gargantuan failures of planning and shockingly poor tactics. The political opposition also played a miserable role, fanning a crisis for the most myopic of political reasons and searching for a pyrrhic victory.

Finally, the military leadership appears to have to let rancour towards the government in an ongoing power struggle affect its role in bringing this phase of the crisis to an end.

The government has been humiliated and the military leadership has further improved its standing with sections of the public for helping end the protests — but at what cost to the country and its people? A menacing precedent has been set by the protesters that will surely embolden others and invite copycats. It is no exaggeration to suggest that no one is safe.

Zealots had already demonstrated the power of mob violence and the strength of the politics of intolerance and hate. Now, a blueprint has been created for holding state and society hostage. Despair is not an option for a nation state, but neither can there be a pretence that a significant setback has not occurred. Is there anyone, in state or society, to help repair the damage?

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2017

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