That seven demonstrators, amongst them women and a 16 year old, were shot and killed by the police in Lahore’s upscale Model Town, sends shockwaves even in a country accustomed to police brutality. That dozens more have bullet injuries, have been wounded, whipped, gassed and beaten, supersedes any political motivation the protestors might have possessed to be where they were on Tuesday. Time, place and circumstance are never irrelevant, but in this scenario, it is belittling- almost undignified- to squander over the logistics of the crowd gathered outside Tahir ul Qadri’s Lahore residence. The facts are these: That the protestors did not pose an existential or other threat to the police or residents in the area. That every fatality occurred from bullet wounds. That the activists resisted police presence, as impassioned demonstrators are often likely to do. That the police went on firing for a length of time, which safely excludes the incident from the convenient justifications of “error in judgment.”

If Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is to be believed, we have on our hands now, a police apparatus that acts on its own and has evolved out of control. Which might be worse, than if the CM had directly ordered the shooting of PAT demonstrators. Though the anti-terrorism bill passed earlier this month gives law enforcement agencies the dubious power to shoot on sight, this was no anti-terrorism operation. So, on whose instruction did the police resort to shooting and killing unarmed civilians in the heart of the Punjab, in the centre of Lahore, the prized wonder-city of the Sharif establishment? Not to mention, in the very same locality where the Sharif family home is situated? For a Chief Minister notorious for micro-managing affairs of the province, it is almost inconceivable to think that a crowd of civilians was indiscriminately fired at a few km from his home without his knowledge. Why wasn’t he aware of it? How quickly was he made aware of it? And how quickly after the matter came to his knowledge, was police violence ceased? The friction between the PAT and the PML(N) is no state secret, especially with allegations of the former liaisoning with the army to push forward an anti-government agenda. But this government has hardly cemented a trigger-happy reputation. For a year, it has been accused of negotiating with terrorists, militants and murderers. And though brutal force by the police has occurred numerously on its watch, this is a new low from which there might be no coming back.