The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s large public gatherings, other than popularity, have always been demonstrative of poor management. Imran Khan’s fall in 2013 is perhaps one of the most memorable examples of how shockingly abysmal safety arrangements tend to be. There is always a royal rumble to witness on the main stage, speakers are often seen frustrated with the lack of discipline and found pleading for silence while there is either none or minimal presence of party officials for the purpose of maintaining order in the crowd. The unfortunate incident towards the end of the PTI’s show in Multan’s Qasim Bagh stadium, that left at least seven people dead, was reasonably foreseeable, which means it could have been prevented had the party learnt anything from its management mistakes in the past.

As expected, the blame game is in full flow. The PTI is accusing the Multan District Administration of not doing its job, and the DCO Multan is ruling out failure of fulfillment of duty since ensuring safe departure of attendees from the venue was the PTI’s responsibility as per the agreement reached prior to the rally. The document has been made public and appears to verify the DCO’s claim. Whether there is more than what meets the eye, as insinuated by the PTI leadership, is yet to be ascertained. However, there are certain things which can be said with certainty. As always, the ‘arrangements’ had been completed the night before the event leaving no time for improvements if required. It had become quite clear that the venue was far too overcrowded. People were seen passing out due to congestion during Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s and Imran Khan’s speeches; something that was brought to their attention and yet, they chose to continue. The party leadership’s disregard for public safety was evident from the lackluster arrangements as well as its negligent conduct when things began to fall apart. That the PTI Chief had to climb a poll to reach the stage helps make quite a convincing case against the party’s health and safety organisation, even to a minimum degree. The inevitable result of such a large crowd dispersing collectively and suddenly absent any guidance or plan through limited exits is a tragedy, and utterly unforgivable.

This unfortunate episode should serve to persuade political parties as well as government institutions, to pay heed to public safety concerns. There is hardly ever a satisfactory plan in place to deal with emergencies. Be they fire or general health hazards, those in charge are ill-prepared and unconcerned. When hundreds of thousands of people collect inside enclosed spaces at your call, it is your responsibility to make basic arrangements for their safe exit in case of fire or some other unforeseen problem. Mismanagement in matters concerning life and death cannot be allowed to prevail. And if humbly owning up to mistakes is a little too much for Imran, the least he could have done was stayed put in Multan to condole with the bereaved families.