- Position of weakness
How approximately nine thousand security personnel could not round up at most one thousand protestors – when the operation started – despite knowing of, and surely planning, the operation for days will have to be seriously investigated in the coming days. How could a well-trained force, duly armed with tear gas shells rubber bullets, capitulate so quickly before a much smaller, stone and baton wielding, mob and the protest snowball into a country-wide phenomenon in a matter of hours? Now, with the military standing ready yet reminding the government whose job it really is to deal with this mess, the ruling party is, apparently, going to try and negotiate once again with the protestors. After the botched operation, though, its position is much weakened and its writ far more challenged.
And the media blackout clearly did not help. True, some of the front-runners of our electronic media industry go overboard with their spin a little too routinely to be dismissed simply as media freedom, etc. But a total blackout is a self-defeating strategy in the modern era, especially when it is extended to social media. The resulting vacuum only invites more criticism for the government, as PML-N is fast learning. Why bend over backwards to hide something so important unless, of course, you have something to hide? If it was the government’s own unpreparedness, especially, that was meant to be hidden, it did not help at all.
Going back to the talks, too, the government appears pretty clueless. Already, as reported in this paper, the protestors have indicated that they intend to raise the stakes as far as their demands go. And, considering they have thwarted a court ordered government crackdown, it is natural for them to inflate their wish-list. By giving in now, after refusing lesser demands earlier, the government clearly loses. Yet by not bending it only invites a rerun of a very badly handled operation. The government, it seems, is in zugzwang, but only because it mishandled every phase and aspect of this protest right from the beginning. PML-N has only itself to blame for its weakened position.