Land of Disturbia

Published September 12, 2020
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

WITH PTI in power, PTI has decided to provide a spirited and defiant opposition to PTI. Leaders of PTI have vowed to take on leaders of PTI for their acts of omission and commission and resolved to leave no stone unturned to expose the atrocious governance of PTI. In this respect PTI has announced that it will do everything in its power to expose PTI and inform the nation how PTI is letting down PTI. Observers say the showdown between PTI and PTI has begun to take a toll on both PTI and PTI.

Welcome to the Land of Disturbia.

It is a land where tainted characters like the CCPO of Lahore strut like peacocks while survivors of rape are expected to cower in guilt; a land where upright and respected inspectors general of police are sacrificed at the altar of nepotism while discredited subordinates are garlanded with official praise; and a land where ministers indulge in repellent whataboutery over victim-shaming remarks while chief ministers pretend the remarks were never uttered in the first place.

The unfortunate events of this past week have reinforced the vulnerabilities of the PTI government: wrong people placed in the wrong positions for all the wrong reasons. This has become a trend. The obviousness of the weakness hides a more disturbing phenomenon — making key decisions subservient to reasons that cannot be acknowledged publicly. All governments do this; the present one is doing it more crudely.

The unfortunate events of this past week have reinforced the vulnerabilities of the PTI government.

Why did the federal government/Punjab government appoint a man with dubious credentials as CCPO of Lahore? Both governments knew he was passed over for promotion based on his less-than-exemplary reports. Both governments had read these reports and were well aware of his past performance, which was not as scintillating as the gentleman himself believes. Both governments were also fully informed of his reputation.

Ah, the reputation.

So that’s why they put him incharge of the Lahore police? This reputation is well documented in his performance report, which is now being shared widely in the media. Was there something in that report, something in those adverse attributes highlighted in the report, something about his rough personality and gruff demeanour, and his personal and professional vices, that endeared him to the federal and provincial leadership of PTI? This something was apparently so intriguingly endearing that PTI was ready and willing to sack a very well reputed IG Punjab to retain the CCPO.

Disturbed enough? There’s more.

PTI leadership validated their chosen CCPO’s insubordination of his superior officer. The leadership treated this as an individual grievance. Did it not realise this would have institutional ramifications for the police force? Yes the same police force that is already groaning under the weight of its own rotting reputation; that is suffering from a professional meltdown so grievous that it has become a predatory force that bleeds from the wounds of corruption and incompetence. PTI has added insubordination to the grim list. Can any force worth its name — a force built on the pyramid of hierarchy and chain of command — survive these triple blows? PTI was supposed to reform Punjab police; it is destroying it further.

In Disturbia, there’s much more.

The horrific and violent rape on the motorway has exposed the dark underbelly of Punjab’s policing and administrative failures. The worst part: these failures were not even hiding in plain sight — they were gyrating in plain sight. Any surprise that this section of the motorway was not policed? Any surprise that a request sent two months ago to deploy police at the stretch remained unanswered? Any surprise that the distress calls for help by the rape survivor to official phone numbers led to nothing but delayed response? Any surprise that various agencies within the provincial government are unable to stitch together an undisputed version of events?

And any surprise that the CCPO is apportioning blame to the rape survivor?

When he says the survivor should have taken a different route at this late hour, or she should have checked her petrol gauge, or should not have ventured out at all — when he says all of these vile things, repeatedly and unapologetically, he is not just verbalising an opinion dripping with contemptible misogyny, he is in fact betraying a mindset that prevails within his force responsible for the safety and security of 53 per cent of the country’s population that lives in Punjab. This is not callous. This is not irresponsible. This is outright dangerous.

And you know what is even more dangerous in Disturbia?

It is this: the federal and Punjab governments are willing to overlook the tainted credentials of its CCPO, they are willing to overlook his gross insubordination and its adverse impact on the police force, and are even willing to overlook his deeply misogynistic mindset and its consequences — they are willing to overlook all this and more for…?

For something that this officer will provide to the federal and Punjab government? Something that cannot be acknowledged, or admitted or uttered; something of so much value, and significance and importance that all the other devastating fallouts of this decision pale in comparison.

The story of Disturbia isn’t finished, yet.

This story was supposed to start like this: Once upon a time in a land far far away ruled a party that said it would appoint the right people for the right job for the right reasons. In this land it was said the police would be reformed so that they served the citizens instead of preying on them; it was said there would be trust between the ruler and the ruled, and the ruler could do many things but he would never withhold the truth from the citizens. The story was supposed to end with everyone living happily after.

The story of the Land of Disturbia — as it unfolds in all its sordid vividness across the plains of Punjab — is far from happy. It is a dark tale for a dark place and we are all living it.

Where are the torchbearers when you need them?

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.


Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2020


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