Anti-encroachment drives are tricky business; there is a high probability that the occupants of any land will react violently to their eviction, and if they do the correct police response can be difficult to determine. The infamous Model Town incident was sparked by such a drive, and the heavy-handed police response led the death of several innocent citizens. By contrast, Saturday’s event in Nankana Sahib show the result of an ill-coordinated and undermanned response; several policemen were injured, the office of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) was mobbed and the records inside set ablaze.

However the root cause of both incidents remains the same, mismanagement by the government. One would have thought in the wake of a Model Town incident – the aftermath of which led to the formation of a judicial commission and sparked the impetus for the PTI-PAT march on Islamabad – the government would have formed a well thought-out standard operating procedure for forcibly demolishing illegal encroachments.

Yet we witnessed the same befuddled Punjab police response that has become characteristic of the force. The ETPB bulldozers were accompanied by only a few policemen – none of whom were equipped with crowd control gear. In the face of resistance, police reinforcements took hours to arrive while the protestors took their merry time in storming the ETPB office.

While responsibility of this incident clearly lies at the government’s doorstep that exactly is to blame remains in dispute. Different accounts are given by ETPB Chairman Siddiqui Farooq – who blames the local DCO of being cowardly – and the Punjab government – which claims the ETPB had no taken the police and district administration into confidence over the operation. Whether it is the negligence of the ETPB, or it is the connivance of the local police with the land-grabbers in their late response, or a bit of both, the matter must be investigated and the appropriate punishment be meted out.

Although mismanagement may have led to escalation of the incident the people who attacked the ETPB office are the prime culprits; they injured policemen, damaged private and government property, all in the defense of illegally grabbed land. Arrests must be made, including the arrest of PML-N MPA Zulqernain Dogar – who according to the claims of the ETPB chairmen supported the land grabbers.

This may be another government fiasco, but the encroachments remain illegal; the government must hold another anti-encroachment drive – this time a little better managed.