The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has doubled down in its defence of Provincial Health Minister Hisham Inamullah Khan and has threatened the KP Doctors Council with departmental action if they do not relent and open Out Patient Departments (OPDs) alongside Emergency Rooms across the province. Instead of lodging a First Information Report (FIR) against the Health Minister, the government has deflected from the issue and called the protest a move to derail the PTI’s bid to reform the transfers procedure in the province. This is the worst reaction possible from the government and it must remember that assaulting a citizen is a crime, no matter who the perpetrator is.

KP Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai’s claims of an engineered protest and politicising health reforms at the Friday press conference is completely at odds with the demands of the Council; filing an FIR against the Minister should be simple enough given that the police had no problem filing a complaint against Dr Ziauddin Afridi, the doctor attacked by Hisham Inamullah’s guards. No matter what happens, there is no justifiable excuse for using guards hired through the salary paid by taxpayers to assault a citizen of the state.

The Health Minister has not resigned – as demanded by opposition parties such as the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) – nor has he even deigned to issue a formal apology. Merely issuing a statement about being attacked first when Dr Afridi has visible marks from being hit with the butt of a gun should not let the Minister off the hook.

The Information Minister’s threats were targeted at inducing fear and panic among the protesting doctors by mentioning the preparation of a list of names of the leaders of the protest who would be specifically targeted, alongside making claims of being approached by doctors that wanted to side with the government in the ongoing kerfuffle. Strong-arming protesters by identifying specific targets to take action against is not only setting a dangerous precedent to quash dissent, but becomes even more problematic when it is done in defence of violent action taken by a sitting minister.

Given that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is in power in both the federal and provincial governments, their claims about being principally better as both individuals and a party compared to other politicians has once again been put to the test with the Health Minister’s brazen attack on a doctor. The silence from party leaders all the way up to the Prime Minister however, is not encouraging. It can only be hoped that clearer minds in government come to the fore and bring the Information Minister in line and the Health Minister is charged.