September 3 went exactly as expected in both Lahore and Rawalpindi, punctuated by the protests of both Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in the two cities. On part of the protesters, there were the usual speeches, centred around heavy rhetoric but little substance. Imran Khan castigated all but the Army Chief, and targeted his rancour at key institutions such as NAB, FIA and ECP. Tahir-ul-Qadri stuck to his routine, and attempted to remind the COAS of his promise to PAT of bringing perpetrators of the Model Town incident to justice.

The government should know better than to attempt to box in a large number potentially violent protesters, and the surrounding city besides. If it is an attempt to deter the protesters, it is the most ill-thought out move conceivable. The protesters are already expecting this from the government, and all this really does is choke the entire city and cause immense trouble to the rest of the public.

Not only that, but on the government’s part it also sends all sorts of wrong messages. The fact that the government has to resort to this is a reminder of the botched attempts at diplomacy, not to mention that it makes it look like the government is using its power to suppress dissent. And on another level, it shows that the government is fearful of what the protesters could achieve if they show up with all their numbers in tow.

Maybe the ruling party should have taken a page out of the previous PPP government’s book, and ignored Tahir-ul-Qadri completely, letting him huff and puff till his movement lost steam. Instead what we have seen is attempt after (failed) attempt to control a movement that is spiralling out of control, not because it can stand on its own, but because the government looks like it will continue sabotaging itself to add more fuel to the fire started by opposition parties.

At this point, not much Imran Khan or Tahir-ul-Qadri can do can make them look bad, because the protests have begun, and they are ready to jump on any opportunity handed to them by the government, of which there are several. Obtusely sticking to its stance during the ToR negotiations, and now propping containers in its childish attempts to box the issue in, the PML-N does not need help in providing ammunition to the opposition. The party needs to stop being its own worst enemy, and either let things be, or nip in this in the bud before we have another attack on a state building on our hands.