Storming of the Sindh House

Published March 19, 2022
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

Do you see the writing on the wall of the Sindh House?

Prime Minister Imran Khan is fighting what increasingly appears to be an unwinnable war. It wasn’t always like this. Since at least 2017, he has hardly fought a battle he hasn’t emerged victorious from. In the pre-power days he was riding high on a wave of popularity fuelled by factors that were partly organic, and partly not. The incumbents did not stand a chance. In the post-power days, he has been surfing on a wave of expectations fuelled by hope and ignited by the spark of state machinery.

Till now.

Now all is different. As the inebriation of power wears off, it is replaced by the clarity of political mortality. Those imbued with the high of pre-power and post-power phases are now faced with the harsh possibility of a no-power life. In this life there will be denial, then heartbreak, and finally pain.

The final outcome of what could be Khan’s last stand is still 10 days away. But what is fairly clear to those not blinded by partisan rage is that the events we see around us today — vote of no-confidence, betrayal by own members and dithering of allies — all these happenings did not break out like a cloudburst. Instead, they are an outcome of mismanagement and failure that have unveiled themselves like a train wreck in slow motion.

The final balance sheet must wait its compilation. But the events of Friday have added a frightening new element to the evolving situation. The storming of the Sindh House in Islamabad by PTI MNAs and workers has injected a deadly dose of volatility in an already tense atmosphere. Even more deadly, however, is the way that the PTI government’s leadership has responded to this outrageous provocation by its rank and file.

As the inebriation of power wears off, it is replaced by the clarity of political mortality.

The provocation did not take place in a flash. It was building up slowly through the day inside the federal capital’s Red Zone which is the most heavily fortified and patrolled area in Islamabad. PTI workers were able to make their way to the heart of this protected area without any efforts by the Islamabad police to stop them. The hapless police, burdened it appears by an equally hapless leadership, was perhaps taking its cue from the interior minister and other cabinet members who had been trashing the people housed inside the Sindh House. These ministers and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s various aides were making no efforts to dilute the harshness of their language. When people forget they represent the state, and when they pretend they are bigger than the offices they hold, they can unleash dynamics that undercut state institutions like the police and make them shirk their responsibilities. Nothing could be more dangerous for a federation.

Also read: How did Prime Minister Imran Khan end up here?

This is precisely what transpired. The PTI mob was allowed to gather in front of the Sindh House, then it was allowed to attack the gates and break them down in full glare of the cameras, and finally it was allowed to enter the premises of the Sindh House. Allowed by whom? The answer is depressing. It was allowed by the Islamabad police whose mandate is to ensure security inside the Red Zone. The police were allowed by the officers who lead them. You ask what ails Pakistan’s police. This does, what was on display. A lack of moral and professional courage to do the right thing. The officers of the Islamabad police should today hang their heads in shame. They gave their CSS examinations, did years of training and courses and wear their uniform and badges for this? To do what they did — or did not do — on Friday?

Why did they not do what they were supposed to do? Fear of their boss the interior minister? Why did he not do what he was supposed to do? Fear of his boss the prime minister? Do you see how this system is slowly cannibalising itself? Do you see how the bureaucracy is slowly losing its professional standing and how the very process of governance is losing its credibility and effectiveness?

The worst was yet to come. The interior minister — never shy of displaying bravado — couldn’t find his voice on TV after the attack on Sindh House. All he could say was what had happened was unfortunate. Unfortunate? Was that the best he could come up with, especially since he is directly responsible for this travesty? Those who speak of moral courage the most seem to surprisingly lose it just when they should display it the most.

Then the information minister came on air and made light of the attack. “Bachhay hain ho jata hai” (the attackers were kids and they can get carried away) he said and advised everyone to “move on”. Move on? Those who speak of moral courage the most seem to surprisingly lose it just when they should display it the most.

It is at times like these when the mettle of people in power is tested. It is sad — and in fact rather concerning — that many in this government are failing to measure up. When they should be urging calm, they are talking provocatively; when they should be urging the rule of law, they are twisting constitutional requirements; when they should be advocating due process, they are threatening mob pressure; and when they should be guaranteeing safety and security, they are busy undermining it. This is what happens when you conduct an experiment and blow up the entire science lab.

Friday’s shocking incident denotes a flashing red light for all those who care to see. It should serve as a warning: de-escalate now, or get ready to face consequences that Pakistan cannot afford. This applies not to both sides but to the PTI in its role as the party that governs Pakistan today. If those who constitute this government and lord over the official power structure are, in essence, fit to rule, they better prove it now.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Twitter: @fahdhusain

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2022

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