We’ve got guided missiles and misguided leadership. It is Friday September 21, 2012. Pakistan is burning. There’s mayhem on the roads of major cities. The air is polluted with tear gas and punctuated with the rat-a-tat of gunfire. Enraged crowds are running amok, smashing windows, tearing down hoardings, looting banks and fighting pitched battles with police. There are screams of anger, and screams of pain as batons smash into skulls and rocks rupture bone and flesh. The country, it seems, is at war with itself – on live TV.

This day of rage swallowed twenty three lives and billions worth of property damage. And it delivered a crippling blow to the fledging credibility of a leadership which is politically wounded, administratively inept and morally weak. As the smoke and emotion ebbed, the pungent smell of a corroded and failed leadership hung in the air.

The government took the easy path – follow the public sentiment instead of leading it. In other words, it pandered to the rage when it should have channelized and organized it. There’s something cowardly about a government which declares a national holiday to protest against blasphemous content. Governments are supposed to protest at international forums, not in its own streets. They are supposed to plead their case to other governments with cold hard logic, not wave their fists in the air like common hoodlums. 

But our government did just this. And then it did something worse: announce protests and then disappear, leaving the main streets vacant for marauding hordes. The governmental leadership abdicated its responsibility by refusing to govern when governance was needed; refusing to lead when leadership was needed and failing to control the mob when control was needed.

The result was a carnage that nightmares are made of. Think absolute chaos, think breakdown of state machinery, think cities at the mercy of a crazed mob – and think a failing state.

Yes, a state that cannot maintain law and order; a state that cannot enforce peace and protect its citizens; a state that can be overwhelmed by people brandishing sticks and stones; and a state that appeases bigots at the expense of the majority – such a state can and does qualify for a failing state. The concept of a failing state – discussed and debated in books – played itself out in all its bloodied colours on the streets of Pakistan on Friday September 21, 2012.

If the concept of a failed state is frightening, the reality was downright terrifying. If ever there was a doubt about this government being incompetent and lilly-livered, that doubt was burnt to ashes on the streets of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

But there is plenty of blame to go around. The leaders of religious parties and organisations did not come out smelling of roses. And I say that politely.

They charged up their cadres, galvanized them, mobilized them and pushed them on to the roads baying for blood – anybody’s blood. And then these Allamas and Maulanas vanished. As the flames leapt up and stones came down; as rage built up and control collapsed, not a word was heard from the Allamas and Maulanas, not a blip or a beep. It was as if these Allamas and Maulanas had deliberately lit a fuse and then retreated out of sight.

These leaders confirmed the worst fears about themselves – that they play politics over death and destruction; that they build constituencies by breaking law and order; that they consolidate a power base built on the foundations of hate – a hate which finds random targets on random issues at random times. They sell hate to an electorate that has been taught to love all that is there to hate. And then manifest this hatred in acts of violence perpetrated in the name of irrationality dipped in venomous emotion.

But we forget. These Maulanas and Allamas will not be asked the questions they need to be asked. They will not be hauled over coals for whipping up a frenzy, allowing it to go out of control and then refusing to rein it in when blood began to spill. Perhaps they realize that the state favours appeasement over accountability. The identity of this absentee leadership is no secret – their party flags were fluttering in the smoke-filled air as all hell broke loose around them.

Missing too was the political leadership which had supported the call for protests. PML-N, MQM, ANP and other parties preferred to go with the emotional flow instead of reining in their supporters. Their feeble statements came only when it was too late. 

On this day, Pakistanis learnt a very bitter lesson: if things go from bad to worse, political and religious leadership would be the first to flee. We learnt that their leadership cannot display the moral authority required to lead against popular emotion; we learnt that these leaders do not have the spine to stand up for what is right instead of what is politically convenient. And we learnt that sans leadership our crowds will pander to the basest emotions completely devoid of any logic or rationality. 

Friday was a sad day for the nation. But it was a tragic day for the families of those died for no reason. They will not be mourned by the leaders who dragged them to their deaths; and they will be lost to the memory of a nation which has gotten numb to death and destruction, and to a leadership which has the mandate but lacks vision; which has the votes but lacks courage and which has the cadres and supporters but lacks the humanity and moral authority to lead them.

On Friday September 21, 2012 we learnt yet again that we have leaders who can enrich uranium and plutonium, but cannot enrich our lives. 

The writer is the host of “Tonight with Fahd” on Waqt News. Email: fahd.husain1@gmail.comTwitter: @fahdhusain