PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan, senior cabinet members and the top military leadership huddled on Tuesday in a National Security Committee meeting, and afterwards the Prime Minister’s Office put out a statement claiming that the NSC “concluded that progress and prosperity in Pakistan lies in the peace, stability and rule of law”.
If that reads as an inadequate and incomplete statement in the wake of the state surrender to violent religious extremists, it is. Surely, in his first official and public remarks since returning from China, Prime Minister Khan ought to have directly addressed the events of last week that have significantly damaged his government’s standing and substantially undermined the state’s authority.
Indeed, the contrast could not be starker between Mr Khan’s apparent resoluteness in a televised address to the nation on Oct 31, in which the prime minister directly and firmly addressed the protesters, and his unwillingness to even directly refer to the events of last week following the NSC meeting.
Perhaps the NSC decided that for now the state’s strategy to deal with the continuing threat that the protesters and their demands present ought not to be made public. But that presupposes that the government and the state have a strategy at all.
Instead, the PTI government and state institutions could simply be in denial.
At a minimum, the NSC statement ought to have addressed the deep and near-universal public anxiety in the wake of last week’s historic debacle.
The speed with which religious extremists took over the streets and blocked highways across the country and law enforcement was helpless in protecting law-abiding citizens and private property has shaken the country.
From the mainstream media to social media, the sentiments of the public are soaked in anxiety and fear. It is therefore necessary that the centre and state institutions go beyond boilerplate statements and demonstrate their resolve to enforce the law, and quickly move towards dismantling the networks that have become a clear and present danger to state and society.
Since the protesters withdrew from the streets last week, no government official responsible for dealing with the aftermath has made clear that the government is contemplating any kind of action whatsoever against the protest leaders.
It is simply not possible for the state to communicate any kind of seriousness in dealing with such protests if the chief instigators face no consequences for their actions.
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2018