The past few days, with the Faizabad protests and the conflicting government and army’s responses to it, have seen our country, and its institutions at its most divided.

With the breakdown of law and order for the last few days, and the government failing to contain the protests, everybody was waiting for the army to clear up its stance and give a definitive statement. We now know that the army will not be taking a strong stance for either side, as in a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), it was decided that the Army will not participate in the crackdown on the Faizabad protesters but it will safeguard the government installations in the federal capital. It was urged that the police and civilian administration were responsible for handling the protesters and they should do so peacefully through talks. General Qamar told the premier that the state should not use force against its own people.

There have been polarised reactions to the crackdown; with some supporting the government for its action, whereby others commending the army for the middle-ground it took and its position of advocating peaceful methods of reconciliation. The media’s position has largely tended to favour the army’s approach.

However, sadly, there is no need to congratulate either the army or the government, in what has resulted in badly-handled circumstances for both institutions. The army was called in because of an ineffective and badly handled government strategy. What was needed from the army was to demonstrate a united front to the protesters, and in the face of weakening local authorities, provide moral support to them to show that law and order was supreme. By taking a half-hearted stance and advising the government to take the moral high ground, the army is undermining the authorities, at a time when the need for unity on all fronts was most needed.

Even if the initial mischief was by the government, it must be remembered that it is right now stuck in a very messy situation, and moral superiority from the army, and vague statements of “peace” do nothing for anyone.

It has been two sad days for the country; reflecting the polarised state of our politics, the breakdown of law and the divide between institutions. The government’s strategy towards the Faizabad protests has been ineffective, and the army’s vague and half-hearted response reflects the weakened unity of our country. A sad state of affairs, indeed.