Is this match fixing? Are they intentionally trying to be terrible at playing politics? There is a man, and he wants confrontation. He wants chaos, he wants violence and he wants it all on tape. But of course, he can’t be completely direct about it. He cannot afford to be viewed as the sole, unprovoked instigator. That’s nothing like Karbala. That won’t sell. He wants to be the victim, not the oppressor. That’s the role he wants you to perform to the very best of your abilities. So, he baits you. He announces a Martyr’s Day to be observed on August 10, and assures everyone that his followers will remain peaceful as long as law enforcement personnel don’t use unnecessary force. That sounds fair enough. You’re the government. What do you do?

Common sense suggests that you don’t give him what he really seeks. Because there’s a reason why he wants what he wants. So, you let them assemble and exercise their rights as guaranteed by the constitution. The same constitution you claim to be shielding against Mr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s onslaught. You complete your preparations for all foreseeable situations, ensure that the media remains present on the site(s) and watch patiently. If they break their promise and resort to violence, everyone will be a witness and you can respond accordingly. No one will hold it against you. This is Pakistan. It is unlikely that a series of peaceful protests will result in your early departure from the corridors of power. A lot more than just that is required for your nightmare to come true. For example, a frantic provincial government overreacting to a relatively normal situation and intensifying it for the benefit of seasonal ‘revolutionaries’. Making illegal arrests, sealing entry and exit points to Lahore, besieging Model Town with containers and personnel, creating an artificial shortage of fuel across the province, illegally taking vehicles into custody, and transforming your provincial capital into a battlefield overnight. These are the things political nightmares are made of. Before, only TV screens suggested that something was cooking up. Now, owing to the PML-N’s unnecessarily proactive approach, the turmoil is easily visible and it has spread everywhere in the Punjab. There are queues for hours outside fuel stations. Mr Qadri wants to play, and the Punjab government is preparing the ground for him. He denounces them as tyrants, and they respond with force unguided by law or reason. There exists such perfect harmony between his words and their actions.

The PML-N needs to apply the breaks on its drive against Mr Qadri, which is only making him go faster. De-escalation of affairs must be the top priority. The government shouldn’t aim to obliterate, but to contain. And containers aren’t the only way of doing that. Revolutions need momentum, a tense political and social environment... and blood. The government should ask itself: has it in any way contributed to Mr Qadri’s movement? How and how much? As soon as it figures that out, it can stop.