What was meant to be a good business weekend for business has instead turned out to be security nightmare, with cities blocked by protesters, and a media ban to further the air of danger. In such moments, when the government is facing great difficulty with the lawless protesters, we look to our great institutions, such as the army, to provide support and morale to the government, which is, on the face of it, trying its best to control an explosive situation. Sadly, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) statement has been confusing to say the least.

Diplomatic, measured responses are all well and good, but some instances call for direct and unequivocal support to a side in a conflict – not vague statements appeasing both. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa advised Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the protestors on Saturday to “handle the Islamabad dharna peacefully” as violent clashes erupted between security forces and protesters in the capital city during a clearance operation at the Faizabad Interchange.

In the context of an escalating situation which is threatening the security of citizens, with protests now propping up nationwide — one that the Army has now been requested to step in to control — this is an impossible ask from the COAS. Equating the two by asking both to behave peacefully runs the risk of leaving no distinction between the protesters chanting death threats, and destroying property; and Law Enforcement Agencies backed by the Courts and writ of the state. This response, reminiscent of Trump’s “there was violence on both sides” comment after the Charlottesville protests, does no favours to anyone; it undermines the government and encourages the protesters to flout the law with impunity.

It is true that the origin of these protests, the amendment in the Election Bill, was due to inefficiency and mishandling on the part of the government. However, after days of trying to appease the protesters, and being criticized by courts and media alike, the authorities are attempting to follow the law – in pursuance of the orders of the Islamabad High Court and Supreme Court – by clearing up the protests and taking on a fearsome group for whom death is an honour. The army has been requested to provide support to the government — and at this stage peaceful negotiations and gentle convincing has failed. God willing the army will be able to step in to steady the hand of the civilian government trying to reinforce order.