The wild roses adorning the walls of old houses on Jail Road were always suffused with the characteristic winter light of Lahore. This afternoon it was a pool of blood that glowed red on the metalled surface. Three young men were dead. Two shot by Mr. Raymond Davis, a US Consulate official and a third crushed under a speeding back up vehicle.
It is time therefore to put the Lahore tragedy in perspective. Political parties and civil society in the country, as also the governments of both Pakistan and the US would do well to approach the gathering storm with calmness, maturity and justice. One of the defining features of a democratic state is the rule of law. Let law take its course and justice prevail. Let the fragrance of roses, not the odour of blood pervade the once beautiful Jail Road in Lahore, and indeed Pakistan.
This incident unless handled with sensitivity, skill, and strictly according to the law of the land, could prove to be the tipping point that pushes the country into chaos. Consequently the national interests of both Pakistan and the US would be adversely affected.
In examining the explosive potential of this event, consider the context in which it has occurred: The emergence of organized Taliban-Al Qaeda groups not only in the valleys of the North, but also in the urban centres; resurgence of militant Baloch nationalism, and a killing spree in Karachi with armed groups on the rampage; an accelerating anarchy as individuals increasingly take the law into their own hands; the perceived weakness of the government in fulfilling its primary function of establishing order in society; the fiscal crisis that constrains the government from effectively dealing with the problem of rising poverty, inflation, and severe shortages of electricity and gas.
The lack of urgency in firmly addressing the challenges of internal security and economy, has made the democratic structure vulnerable to the onslaught of the Extremists who are attempting to establish a “Khilafat” in Pakistan. They propound a bigoted and violent ideology in a society where historically, religion has nurtured love, tolerance, enlightenment and a sense of beauty. They seek to mobilize public support on the basis of a discourse that regards the ruling elite to be corrupt, inept, and merely an instrument of some sinister US design in the region.
Under these circumstances the incident in Lahore, where Pakistani citizens were killed by a US Consulate official can play a powerful role in mobilizing public support for the Extremist cause. If the alleged criminal is spirited away to the US or given diplomatic immunity to prevent him from being tried in Pakistani courts, it will be further grist for the Extremist mill.
Those right wing political parties and elements of the liberal elite who are getting on the anti US bandwagon for this latest outrage against Pakistani sovereignty, may wish to consider the harsh reality that faces the country. Given the critical fiscal situation, and pressures on the balance of payments, a withdrawal of Western support including multi laterals, would mean bankruptcy and exchange rate collapse; imports of critical raw materials including fertilizers would stop; industry would come to a standstill and agriculture production plummet; inflation could shoot up to three digit levels; severe electricity shortages would paralyze key services like transport, hospitals and emergency rescue operations; with the import of weapons, ammunition, equipment and fuel drying up, the ability of the Pakistan military to prosecute the war against the extremists would be significantly compromised. Consequently the economy, society and state could come under unprecedented stress.