Last week on August 8, for the first time in a long time, Lahoris were able to empathize with the trials and tribulations of a caged animal. All terrestrial exit and entry points to the city were under heavy surveillance, blocked with random containers, some of them even loaded with perishable, branded food items. There was an oil shortage scare because of this very blockade and in a market near my house all the bottles of filtered water had apparently been bought already.

The subsequent chaos, which progressively heightened after the ban on movement, was ironically most palpable on the streets. While I waited two hours amongst innumerable other petrol thirsty car drivers, across the petrol station on the main road, a car collided into a motorcycle, seriously injuring the motorcyclist, and then raced away. This was the first in a series of accidents. Soon after this, two cars collided on a red light. Then an old man ran out of the darkness of an otherwise quiet graveyard with a listless girl in his arms. Finally, to top it all, a fight erupted in the distance as some of the rowdy drivers tried to squeeze their way into one of the two lines stretching out of the petrol station. It was surreal to see so much go wrong in less than a square kilometer of public space within a span of two hours. I wondered about the rest of the city.

Earlier the same day, I waited for an hour at another petrol station before I finally made it to the dispenser. When I did, the security guard simply said, ‘You’re in the wrong line, get in the right line’. Not the words I was looking for. I didn’t budge and after some argument, the manager shut the station down. “All those before you quietly rejoined the correct line,” he said. “Why can’t you do the same?” Spotless logic; I became the villain the mob turned against.

Frankly, there was no method really to discern the right line from the wrong line. The only thing one could discern was that the lines were most definitely blurred. And when lines are blurred, might is right. Simple. It was easy then to resent the mob, but to confront it would have been sheer stupidity. In that moment, amidst an intensely frustrated group of people, I was like a T-bone steak dangling over a pack of wolves. All anybody had to do was shout ‘Infidel!’ and the game would have been over.

So we were subjected to all this mayhem for a reason, I hear. What was it? Was it to prevent a self-obsessed, self-appointed ex-pat messiah from marching with a handful of his followers to Islamabad? Does the PML-N honestly think that a march to the centre on August 14 will topple the government? Don’t they recall the time when the same man lost steam after a few days of shouting and hooting in the capital? In any case, if there really is going to be a determined march, or a revolution like Qadri predicts every alternate second of his narrative, does the PML-N think containers will actually contain people?

Today, after a series of mishaps (especially the loss of innocent life), a largely foreign influence like Tahir-ul-Qadri has gained immense street power, a lot of it in sheer retaliation to the atrocities committed against his supporters. Furthermore, after the iron cage descended onto Lahore and Islamabad last week, the PML-N compromised the collective freedom of millions and thus alienated several supporters and apolitical individuals alike. In the end, if all this actually escalates to army intervention, the government’s inability to co-exist and progress with an opposition will become manifestly clear. More than that, how democracy will crawl out of this mess is a question the best political pundits are ill equipped to answer.

Has the PML-N brought this mess upon itself? Could they have managed the opposition better? Perhaps, when the dust settles, contemporary history will provide enough perspective to make a fair assessment.

In the meantime, one is reminded of an incident at the Dallas Zoo in 2013 where a lion killed a lioness. After three years of sharing the same cage, he held her head in his mouth until she suffocated and died. Why the lion really killed the lioness is still unclear, but several animal rights activists galvanized against the idea of caging animals after the incident.

Conversely, in Lahore, on our very first day of citywide captivity, we were at each others’ throats, scrambling for dwindling resources, fighting over every inch of road space on a quest to find fuel, yet with nowhere to go; a bizarre social experiment we could all certainly have done without.

 The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.