By Asha’ar Rehman
On Wednesday, Mardan entered the picture to alleviate some of the guilt that those assigned to mind Kasur must have felt in their weaker moments.
The body of a four-year-old girl was found in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa town. Initial reports said that she might have been raped before she was murdered. The news item, flashed as it was on television, had the queerest of effects on some whose pride and honour had been hit hard by the bad publicity Punjab and its government had received in the wake of the serial rape and killing of young children in Kasur.
The timid must have clutched at their hearts as the defenders of Punjab quickly, and as if naturally, reacted to the news from Mardan as some kind of a vindication for their own lapses in Kasur.
To put it crudely, and with an apology to the more sensitive, Mardan was lapped up as some kind of an equaliser to Kasur. It apparently proved just how inept the administration in KP was and how worthy of the protest — similar to the one the Punjab administration was left to deal with over the gruesome serial murders in Kasur at a whispering distance from the seat of power in Lahore.
To put it crudely, and with an apology to the more sensitive, Mardan was lapped up as some kind of an equaliser to Kasur.
When the equaliser came the big politicians were gathering at Charing Cross to mount a challenge to the Shahbaz Sharif government. The show was considered so worthy of critical comment that on the day, the cruel comparison between Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa went largely unnoticed. Those who made the comment were let off without censure as attention was fixed on Allama Tahirul Qadri and his unusual allies.
Bang in the middle sat the allama as the magician trying to appear as confident as he possibly could. He was to act as the thin curtain which was to divide the stage into two separate compartments without breaking it into two disparate mutual hostile parts.
A few things were decided from the outset. There was to be sufficient distance between Asif Zardari and Imran Khan for the two to appear anything but twins or natural partners of Allama Tahirul Qadri. On one side were the virtuous and the self-righteous, the new angels out to replace the old used ones, i.e., the PTI lot. Across the divide, the space was occupied by the sinners and the condemned that have been making up the PPP for all its life. Ministers with blots all over. MNAs. Even a former prime minister. And, of course, with the tainted Mr Zardari bringing up the rear.
The uneasy make-believe alliance had a huge task. The opposition was out to dislodge a government with a long history of having command over Punjab. This may have been a particularly morbid stretch in the career of the chief minister who visited the bereaved in Kasur in the cover of the night. Many didn’t know about the visit until the pictures showing the chief minister condoling with the grieving family appeared in the media.
But this was the same serial good doer who had to his credit a long series of public relations masterstrokes. He was simply the best chief executive in the country until the search for the Kasur war began. It was thought that he would remain the best once Kasur had blown past.
This reputation must have helped him greatly as he gathered strength to actually appear in the blighted town in broad daylight a few days after his short secret visit. This created hope.
The chief minister in Kasur? Most probably to announce the capturing of the evil man who, the lab proved, had raped and killed eight young girls in the town. What a time to catch the killer. This could surely take the wind out of the initiative of the opposition under Allama Qadri.
No such arrest was actually needed to eclipse the opposition show. The components of the alliance botched it with their inability to find common cause even when they could build upon the Kasur serial killing. But the opposition rally at Charing Cross had been declared unsuccessful long before the likes of Asif Zardari and Imran Khan appeared on the scene separately to display the chasm that existed in Allama Qadri’s scheme. Everyone knew that the show was to boomerang in the opposition’s face.
This was foregone but a little confusing. The PTI and PAT had both received good press for their endeavours in the past. What was wrong with their latest campaign? Why didn’t the media fancy this against a government it had been so critical of in Kasur recently?
The Lahore media was ‘managed’ again or was it the timing? The media probably thought that this drive was unnecessary with elections on the horizon. Or was it the presence of the most-maligned Asif Zardari which compromised the innocent appeal that the Imran-Qadri combine previously held for the pro-reform, ultimately, pro-Pakistan media?
The PPP and its leaders are not exactly what you would call media darlings. There’s a strong likelihood that they brought the same bad luck to the Charing Cross which they have been affected by in recent times. A good enough reason for the PTI and others to restore the old gap between themselves and anything that remotely connects them to the PPP. There’s absolutely no room — or reason — for anyone to appear friendly to the PPP. This is what is to be remembered, most importantly, by the PPP leadership.