A bulldozer, stone throwing protestors, security forces, smoke and firing are reminiscent of Palestine. But this was Lahore and these were not rubber bullets but live rounds, not fired in the air but directly into abdomens and chests. The only commonality: unarmed protestors.
The police arrived late at night to remove barricades outside the residence of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) head, Dr Tahirul Qadri. A high court order legitimising the barricades was shown by the PAT to the police but dialogue deteriorated into a baton charge. In the morning, a new police shift arrived, reportedly 1,000 strong, backed with armoured cars. The bulldozer broke up the barricades and protestors began the stone pelting. Two women, sisters-in-law to each other, stood guard at the door of the house, probably thinking that the police would be easier on women. They were shot at point-blank range and their bodies remained unclaimed till the violence was resolved.
Out of the 12 dead, autopsies of seven, all of them PAT workers, reveal death by bullet wounds or excessive bleeding. Dr Tahirul Qadri states that 15 more have died and the government is preventing families from receiving the bodies, and that a total of 200 are dead or injured. He also makes the hair-raising claim that the arrested have been tortured with nails inserted in their bodies.
It is difficult to process that this battle happened in Model Town, Lahore. Foreign armies generally rain terror on other countries’ civilians. How could the police have killed their own countrymen? How could they have gone wild without orders from above? The Taliban murder civilians in broad daylight, again and again, and ride away with impunity on motorbikes. They are almost never apprehended. Brazen attacks occur, like the beheading of our soldiers, and the Nawaz Sharif government exercises ultimate restraint and persistently tries dialogue. However, barricades and the impending arrival of Tahirul Qadri invoke a mighty, murderous response.
The now sacked law minister, Rana Sanaullah, claims that anti-Pakistan messages between PAT workers were detected and that “no-go areas will not be tolerated”. Is there a comparison between the antics of the Taliban and the workings of the PAT? Since when did response become so incredibly disproportionate? Is the Nawaz Sharif government so disconnected with the people that murmurings between workers and barricades can precipitate killings?
Current events are replete with resignations of ministers when self-wrought tragedies occur — all over the world, except Pakistan. The concerned police officials were quickly demoted to becoming officers on special duty but I am hard pressed to believe that the decision to deal with the Model Town barricades with an iron hand was that of the police. Such deadly police brutality has seldom been seen in Pakistan.
The Sharif government would have been able to stave off the cacophony of criticism and insults if Shahbaz Sharif had stepped down as chief minister but what an outlandish concept! Power was attained with much pain; it can only be relinquished after much pain. Shahbaz Sharif has set up a judicial commission for the investigation of the Model Town tragedy. Only termites see these judicial commission reports — this is a well-known delaying tactic.
Public confidence in the government was at an all-time high with its decision to bombard Taliban hideouts in Waziristan. The most unlikely of people such as Imran Khan were on board and for about three days there was a rare sense of unity in Pakistan. But now the Nawaz Sharif government seems besieged. If the intention was to scare people into not showing up for Tahirul Qadri’s arrival on June 23, the exact opposite has occurred. There is an emotional line within us that inhibits impulsivity, risk taking and altruism but brutal injustices shred this line and people are able to walk into war.
What is even more mind-boggling is why the Punjab government would be threatened by a preacher. Tahirul Qadri’s party boycotted the elections and his loyalists are limited in number. He is full of bluster and rhetoric, and the idea of a ‘Green Revolution’ appears far-fetched at best. On his own steam, no pun intended, Tahirul Qadri would have been negligible and nothing beyond an irritant. However, now we have the bandwagon effect: the combined self-righteous and self-promoting indignation of the MQM, PTI, PML-Q in solidarity with the PAT has the potential to create quite a migraine for the government.
And if it topples the Punjab government, it will be a well-deserved punishment. Like in army strategy, all actions must anticipate and fully prepare for the reactions. The Model Town tragedy will be an ignominious chapter in Pakistan’s history. The heart-wrenching cry of the daughter and niece of the two murdered women ascended eerily to the heavens. And, as promised, God will dispense discerning and timely justice.
The writer specialises in addiction and family medicine. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org