Coated black

Updated 14 Dec 2019


The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

AS if you didn’t know this would happen.

So when it happened, and where it happened, and how it happened is actually rather immaterial. Public property got vandalised. So? Emergency rooms got ransacked. So? Patients died while struggling for life. So?

Yes so what? Now might be a real good time to get off your moral high horse, strip off your mock-outrage mask and pull off the blinkers welded on your brow. Liberated from these social hypocrisies, you will see what every Pakistani can see in his or her mind’s eye but does not have the heart —or spine — to admit.

And what, pray, might this be?

The lawyers who attacked the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore this week did what is expected of them. Expected by whom? By their colleagues, by their bars, by their community, and by our society at large. It was in the fitness of things. They attacked judges and nothing happened; they attacked cops and nothing happened; they attacked citizens and nothing happened — so they just upped the ante and attacked a hospital. Guess what will happen?

Oh sure, the routine will be played out. There will be condemnations, as they have; there will be arrests, as they have; there will be petitions, as there have, there will be cases registered, as they have; and once all these have been done, the real routine will kick in. There will be some apologies, some recanting, some compromise, some bails, some quiet quashing of cases, some sanctimonious press conferences and all shall revert to where all reverts to all the time. The rhythm of the system will heal all wounds.

Amazing how quickly we heal in this country — especially when wounded by someone stronger.

Amazing how quickly we heal in this country — especially when wounded by someone stronger. And that is the lesson that shall once again be beaten with fists into our collective conscience: be strong, be violent and be tribal. Lesson well learnt indeed.

For had this lesson not been learnt, due process would have kicked in. Such a process is brutally uncomplicated. The police would register cases against citizens who broke various laws in the attack on the hospital. To do this, they would first identify each and every single one of the lawyers present during the attack. Thanks to the Lahore Safe City cameras — and dozens of news channels’ cameras — this would not have been a difficult task. Once done, multiple sections of the Pakistan Penal Code would have been applied on them. These would cover every feasible crime that took place ranging from forcible entry to murder. Every single lawyer would then be arrested as per the FIR following which the law would take its natural course till the very end. The end would depend on thorough investigation, solid prosecution and a transparent trial that would lead to conviction or acquittal.

In the real world though, the state dare not. It will put up a show of bravado, raid some lawyer houses, beat some lawyer types and round up some lawyer packs. It may even pretend to talk tough and look tough. But we all know this act because we have seen it over and over again. This so because the state dare not do what it should have done in the first place; which it is paid to, trained to and mandated to do in the first: stop the crime from happening in the first place.

To hear the police and government types regurgitate excuses and justifications for their sheer failure in stopping the sack of PIC is depressing. The raiders of PIC walked many kilometres in plain sight through the heart of the city with the clear intent of unleashing violence but the ‘feared’ Punjab police could do nothing more than putting up feeble resistance. When the inspector general of police of the largest province cannot save a big hospital in the centre of the city from being ransacked then not much hope is left for anything else. This is not mere lawlessness, or unruliness or disorderliness….

This is anarchy.

It is anarchy because the lawyers have lost their legal and moral moorings and the bar and bench cannot do much; it is anarchy because the police has lost its capacity and willingness to secure life and property from being destroyed by the lawyers and the government cannot do much; it is anarchy because the government has lost the resolve to build a police force that can maintain law and order against all odds and the state cannot do much; and it is anarchy because the state is held hostage by its own severe inadequacies and deficiencies and the citizens cannot do much.

We underestimate this crisis at our peril. The entire state structure — with leaders sitting atop like helpless cherries — appears to be sleepwalking through a maze of endless rationalisations. Clarity of law has been replaced with the fog of criminal indecision.

For what do you do when legal luminaries like Raza Rabbani and Hamid Khan justify the attack on PIC? What do you do when a majority of their community — thousands of them across this land — see no cruel irony in the assailant playing the victim? What do you do when federal ministers find solace in soft verbal condemnations but do not say how they will enforce the law? And what do you do when a bulk of society hides behind the vague framing of ‘White Coats vs Black Coats’ tussle instead of calling the attack on the hospital what it is: a grotesque crime.

Make no mistake: the writ of the Punjab government and Punjab police lies buried under the debris of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology. And there it shall remain till the next attack on the next target in the next episode featuring the lawyers and other tribes like them. Be frightened. Be very frightened.

There is enough black to be coated on all our faces.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

Twitter: @Fahdhusain

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2019