All thinking individuals are gravely concerned with the recent turn of events in Islamabad and all over Pakistan. This chain of events could have been avoided if the many actors in this drama had acted sagaciously and in a timely manner. The parties who were aggrieved with the manner in which the elections were allegedly manipulated should have adopted legal methods of registering their complaints including complaints/objections to Polling Officers, Returning Officers, and timely FIRs with the police, complaints to the Election Commission and petitions to the Election Tribunals and/or other judicial forums and the media. Once these avenues were exhausted, they could prepare a formal list of grievances addressed to the executive, legislative and judicial pillars of state authority. If these too failed to evoke a positive response, appeals could be made to the public through electronic and print media with a specific list of legitimate grievances and demands. It could be mentioned that public protests would follow if their demands were not addressed.

On the other side, the government should, at all times, acknowledge that its legitimacy depends on the public perception that it has been validly elected without any misconduct, manipulation or rigging. If there are allegations of electoral rigging they should be addressed immediately by means of vote recount and transparency regarding the conduct of elections. No person, however elected, should try to withhold any information from the public by resorting to judicial or extra judicial devices.

In case of differences between political parties on election issues or other matters, the parties should immediately initiate negotiations and not maintain a rigid stance regarding their unassailability. Timely negotiations and recount of ballots in disputed constituencies may have changed the results for some seats without substantially affecting the overall outcome of the elections. The ruling party has not learnt any lessons from history. Throughout the current crisis it has maintained a posture of self righteousness. Elected candidates have tried, by all means to avoid the reopening of their results.

Coming to today’s specific situation regarding the long marches and dharna: Imran Khan heads a popular, upcoming party which has obtained a reasonable number of seats in the national and provincial legislatures. If the legitimate demands of his party were not met he could be considered justified in initiating an appropriate protest. On the other hand, Dr. Tahir ul Qadri has not participated in the elections at all, and therefore is not a stakeholder. He possesses dual nationality and is debarred from holding any public office in Pakistan. He comes and goes at his own whim. His demand for the registration of an FIR regarding the Model Town incident has been fulfilled. He is illegally inciting the students of his Minhajul Quran educational institutions and their parents to rebel against the state. He can be prosecuted for violating Article 5 and 6 of the Constitution. Imran should never have joined hands with him. He should have maintained his distance from the padre demagogue, whose recent call to his followers to dig their own graves and wrap shrouds on their heads is strongly reminiscent of the November 1978 Jonestown, Guyana mass suicides, where 918 people died on the instructions of the self styled religious leader, Jim Jones.

While embarking on the long march, the Pakistan Tehreek-i- Insaf leaders, particularly Imran Khan, declared that he and his party members were merely exercising their rights of Freedom of Association, Movement and Assembly under Articles 15, 16, and 17 of the Constitution. He emphasized that to assemble peacefully and without arms is the fundamental right of all citizens; he further assured that they would not take any illegal or unconstitutional steps during the Dharna on Constitution Avenue.

However, on August 30th, when Qadri called upon his followers to proceed towards the Prime Minister House, Imran and his party members followed suit. He parted company with those PTI leaders who disagreed with his decision; internal dissensions between the President and Chairman of the party did not help in enhancing the party image.

Protesters broke the fences and entered into the precincts of the PM’s Secretariat. The trespassers rammed a truck into the fencing, they used catapults and batons to combat the police force positioned to protect this public building. The protesters thus caused damage to public property. In retaliation, the police resorted to lathi charge and tear gas shelling which injured more than 500 people. Reportedly, two or more people succumbed to their injuries. The police also resorted to excessive use of force against the representatives of the media. Illegal methods were used by the protesters and law enforcing agencies, and the ensuing pandemonium and chaos have cast an indelible blot on Pakistan’s Constitutional history. Nor can Imran Khan’s call to start a civil disobedience movement, whereby people are urged not to pay their taxes and utility bills be termed lawful.

PTI workers were urged to protest in all major cities and to lay siege to Nawaz Sharif’s house at Raiwind. Resultantly, entry routes to Lahore from Raiwind road were blocked by protesters, causing enormous difficulties to commuters and daily wage labourers who use this route to travel to their places of work. Similarly, a shutter down call in Karachi abetted by MQM may bring life to a standstill in the economic hub of Pakistan.

Imran Khan, while urging the public servants to recall the Quaid’s direction that they are servants of the people, did not advert to the Quaid’s speech delivered on 28th March 1948 wherein he said,

“The people are now the final arbiters of their destiny. They have perfect liberty to have by constitutional means any Government that they may choose. This cannot, however, mean that any group may now attempt by any unlawful methods to impose its will on the popularly elected Government of the day. The Government and its policy may be changed by the votes of the elected representatives…. do not allow yourselves to be made the pawns of mischievous propagandists and self-seeking agitators who are out to exploit both you and the difficulties with which a new State is inevitably faced.”

Monday, September 1st, was another black day. The protestors broke the gates of the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV). A large number of people entered the premises, broke equipment, suspended transmissions and made jubilant victory signs. The police did not interfere and one of their finest officers was mauled. The army and rangers finally drove the protestors out. Leaders of both groups of protesters are now denying that their supporters were responsible for breaking, entering and vandalizing public property. Before embarking on this expedition, the leaders should have realized that they are vicariously responsible for the acts of their supporters and workers. Bare denials cannot absolve them of responsibility.

The Corps Commanders have held urgent meetings chaired by the COAS to discuss the deteriorating law and order situation. The subsequent ISPR press release impressed on all parties the importance to resolve their differences through political deliberations and in a democratic manner. It emphasized that the Army supports the democratic process. They have also reiterated that they are always prepared to defend the country from internal and external threats; one cannot help feeling an undeniable déjà vu.

The government and protestors need to give up their rigid positions and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the present crisis whereby all differences can be resolved peacefully. We cannot afford an Arab Spring which may turn into the winter of our discontent. Please unite and thwart the evil designs of the enemies of Pakistan.

 Justice Nasira Iqbal is a former Judge of the  Lahore High Court.