By Dr. Haider Mehdi

In my Radio Pakistan Islamabad interview on September 18th pertaining to the growing unrest and public protests all over Pakistan due to the blasphemous movie “The Innocence of Muslims,” I had suggested that the Prime Minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, himself, take full control and leadership of the protest rallies, most specifically one to be organized in Islamabad. In fact, my suggestion was that the Prime Minister should coordinate a peaceful public rally with the help of other political parties and their leaders and himself lead a massive gathering of Pakistanis to the American Embassy and personally deliver a protest note to the US Ambassador (that part of the interview was not broadcast). Although it would have been an unprecedented act of public representation by a sitting Prime Minister and protocol rules would have been over-stepped, yet this political action itself would have been a powerful reminder to the Obama administration of the seriousness of the Pakistani government and its public on the said issue. Not only that, but such an act of political statesmanship would have established the incumbent Prime Minister as the unquestioned leader of 180 million Pakistanis as well as the leading representative of over 2 billion Muslims worldwide. History is always made by landmark political actions – timidness, indecision and untimely compromises on vital national issues are not the hallmark of a statesman.

I wish the Prime Minister himself had had such a visionary understanding of public sentiments on this issue and had acted accordingly. Then so many innocent lives would not have been lost and the country’s image would not have been tarnished. The blame of loss of lives, civil disturbance, damage and destruction of property rests squarely on the Zardari-Raja administration.

Conflict resolution experts, social scientists, intellectuals and writers on democratic governance are all in agreement that leadership in a democratic set-up must possess certain fundamental political management skills and a strategic plan for the efficient administration of national affairs. Let us discuss, for deliberative purposes, some of these vital management expertises and question whether Pakistan’s incumbent Prime Minister had implemented or administered any of these important political managerial skills with competence, efficiency and ingenuity during last week’s public rallies, protests and disturbances.

Situational Assessment: Did the Prime Minister do a situational assessment of countrywide public rallies? Did he assess different possible scenarios and how to deal with them? Did he define and set up alternate approaches to handle different situations with different sets of workable remedies? It is obvious from the situation on the ground that none of this was even initiated.

Coordination & Organization of an event: Did the Prime Minister personally contact the leadership of different parties to form a common strategy to organize nationwide public rallies? Did the PM invite other party leaders for proposals and to make a mutual effort to ensure that the public rallies remained peaceful, were led by responsible party cadre and had the ultimate goal of handing a note to the US Ambassador? It is obvious that none of this was done. After all, hpw massive national public rallies ought to be organized, properly planned, necessary security steps taken, and the public provided with essential facilities such as water dispensers, food, rest areas, adequate restrooms and well-defined protected routes for public safety. The Zardari-Raja administration failed completely on this account as well.

Pre-emptive Crisis Management: Did the Prime Minister issue specific instructions to the law enforcement agencies and civil administrations countrywide to ensure that the police personnel did not carry fire-arms at those public rallies to make sure that no untoward incident happened to jeopardize public safety? The government had declared Friday a public holiday with the intent of large-scale public participation in national protests. It was the government’s responsibility to make sure that public safety was not compromised – and yet, the Zardari-Raja administration simply played politics instead of planning responsibly – with the result of innocent citizens losing their lives.

Mob Control, Negotiations and Consensus Development: Did the Prime Minister order divisional civil administration heads, district civil administrators and respective police chiefs to be personally present (unarmed and without police armed guards) at each rally to be available for pro-active and constructive engagement with rally leaders should a rally start turning violent? In civilized and democratic societies, mob control is not exercised by administering “tear gas”, shooting into public gatherings with live ammunition and killing citizens. Let us be reminded that last Friday’s public rallies were government sanctioned – a special public holiday was announced. Hence, it is a fair judgment to make that the Prime Minister was simply playing politics with the sentiments of the Pakistani masses – which resulted in horrifying consequences. 

Now, the vital question is: Why has the Prime Minister not resigned yet? If an Indian minister can resign office because of a train accident (he was not directly responsible for it but it happened under his watch) and a British minister resigned because of alleged embezzlement not yet proven, then why shouldn’t a Pakistani Prime Minister resign when massive destruction of life and property has happened under his watch?

Prime Minister, as a common citizen of this country and in that inherent democratic right vested in me, in so-called democratic Pakistan, allow me to indict you on the following grounds on account of mismanagement of public affairs on Black Friday, September 21st: Incompetency, inefficiency, lack of political and administrative management skills, deficiency in organizational methods, ineptness in crisis management, absolute visionary ineffectiveness in negotiations and consensus development processes, inability in prompt decision making and  not issuing timely directives to public functionaries and ,above all, playing politics with public sentiments (to enhance a false personal image) resulting in the loss of life of innocent citizens on Black Friday, September 21st, 2012, in some of the major cities of Pakistan.

Prime Minister, the question is: Are we safeguarding democracy or driving Pakistan to utter chaos and its ultimate demise?

It was Thomas Paine, a revolutionary English-American political activist, who once said:“The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.” 

The people of Pakistan have to make a choice!