ISLAMABAD: While the government’s announcement of ‘Yaum-e-Ishq-e-Rasool’ (Love the Prophet Day) on Friday was intended to officially lend support to Pakistanis protesting against the anti-Islam film and be a national expression of love for the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), as the day unfolded and much of the country was engulfed in violent and fatal protests, many questioned the wisdom of pronouncing the national holiday.
“The announcement of the day was the collective decision of the federal cabinet and was a good decision,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told The News on Friday. “If we had not declared this a national holiday, all the people in Karachi and other cities would have been stuck in their offices and shops due to the protests. What would they have done when the protestors had come to burn things? Everything would have really gone down then.”
Thanking God that “things in Islamabad remained under control,” he claimed that this would not have been the case if the national holiday had not been sanctioned. “There is always wisdom in these things, trust us,” the interior minister said.
However, as thousands of Pakistanis staged violent protests on the government-sanctioned day, leaving several people dead in their wake, it became clear that whatever wisdom had animated the decision to observe a day of protest may have indeed failed.
“It was the government’s job to give people direction and leadership,” PTI Chairman Imran Khan told The News. “They should have said there is no need for protests; we will take action at international fora, we will educate the West about why this film has hurt Muslims.”
But according to Khan, instead of providing guidance to people, the PPP government decided to placate the awan (public) for its own narrow gains. “When they [PPP] saw people angry, they decided to placate them and pander to them,” he told this correspondent. “The problem here is that the government has no overarching policy on how to deal with such crises; they are just going along with the situation, making bad decisions as events unfold.”
For Khan, the government’s biggest failure is that it does not understand that the people of Pakistan increasingly see the war on terror as a war on Islam. “These are people frustrated by years of abuse at the hands of the West, but the government doesn’t get that. These people need guidance. But what guidance will they get from a government that itself doesn’t get it?” Khan asked.
For Khan, the day of love had certainly turned into a day of hate and there was no one but the government to blame.
Zahid Khan, a senator belonging to one of the government’s allied parties, Awami National Party, also admitted that the day of protest had turned out to be a “complete failure.”
“Whether you want to call it a failure of the government which announced this day, or ulema who supported them, or law enforcement agencies which couldn’t keep control, the fact is that this is everyone’s failure,” Zahid Khan told his correspondent from Peshawar.
He said that while the ‘idea’ behind the national day was a noble one and it was the right of Muslims around the world to protest any slight against the Holy Prophet (PBUH), “the shape the protests took was despicable.”
“The kind of protests that we have seen today has humiliated and embarrassed us before the whole world,” Zahid Khan lamented.
When asked about the death toll in Peshawar where at least four were killed during the protests, he said that it was certainly the job of the police to control the protestors but claimed that there was “firing from both sides.” “Police can only control violent protestors with the baton,” Zahid Khan said. “What else can they do?”
When pushed to answer who was responsible for the day’s violence, the ANP senator said, “We should not rule out the possibility of a third force” using the sentiments of enraged Muslims for personal gains.
“People who want to hurt Pakistan; who bomb market places and schools; who attack our army and our common man – they have certainly benefited from all this,” he concluded.
Another senior member of the PPP told this correspondent on the phone that he would call back shortly as he was standing in the middle of the “scene of violence.” His inadvertent admission that the government-sanctioned day had turned into a countrywide “scene of violence” was ironic, at best.
Others in the government defended the move to announce the protest day by arguing that it was meant to be a way to channel people’s sentiments in positive and peaceful ways.
“But if the government had genuinely thought the protests would be peaceful, they wouldn’t have ordered all major roads in Islamabad blocked with containers,” said a senior member of an opposition party, requesting not to be named because his party chief had not yet issued a categorical statement on the day’s events.
For most of the day, including after cell phone services were resumed in the evening, the phones of senior members of the major opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and the government’s allies Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Awami National Party remained switched off.
“It’s a national holiday for them,” a newspaper editor joked. “They’re all on leave while the country goes to hell.”