A policeman goes after a lawyer after a clash between lawyers and doctors in Lahore on December 11, 2019. Photo: AFP / Arif Ali

On Wednesday Pakistan witnessed one of the more horrific incidents of recent times. A mob of angry lawyers from the Lahore High Court Bar Association attacked a hospital, the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), as a protest against some of its doctors for mistreating one of their colleagues and afterward making a video that went viral on social media in which a doctor made fun of their colleagues.

During the attack, heart patients ran here and there to save themselves, while the doctors were kept busy fighting the invading mob of lawyers. According to government reports, three patients died during this attack. When patients finally thought they were safe, teargas fired to disperse the protesters again forced them to flee.

Even Punjab Information Minister Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan was attacked by the mob when he tried to intervene and calm down the situation. Finally when the mob was dispersed, even the police were not confident that they could handle the lawyers, so the government called in the Rangers, a paramilitary law-enforcement agency, to protect the city of Lahore.

Even during a war, it is very rare to hear of anyone attacking a hospital, but this is not the case here in Pakistan. Perhaps the mob attacking the PIC has successfully shown the world how uncivilized and inhuman we as a society have become. It is not about the lawyers only, it is a collective mindset of a society that encourages violence and mob justice.

From political activists to human-rights activists and from lawyers to doctors and journalists, everyone has affiliations with one group or another, and everyone wants to see his group or like-minded individuals prevail over others even at the cost of lawlessness. So as a result even this recent tragedy of a mob attacking a hospital has become an excuse for political point-scoring and mocking one’s opponents.

It seems that human values died long ago in our society and what is left is only illusion: the illusion of being human, the illusion of being civilized and the illusion of being alive. After all, no one in the civilized world would even think of attacking a hospital where critically ill heart patients are supposed to get life-saving medical treatment.

The government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that came to power by breeding violence among its vote bank seemed helpless throughout this incident and other than addressing a few press conferences and forming an investigating committee, nothing was done to bring the culprits to justice. Meanwhile the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) used this tragedy to settle political scores.

The masses mocked each other’s political parties over social media, and that is it. Now the masses will use new incidents of violence to mock one another to pass the time, while the political parties will look for other events like this so they can score political points against each other. This has been happening for long, and will continue to happen, as there is no value for human lives and no intention to accept the writ of law.

The majority of the masses lack the ability to think above prejudice and political and other affiliations, while the power-hungry elite is happy settling scores with one another despite themselves being victims of violence in the recent past. This inhuman and uncivilized mindset of society is the result of all the power players led by the military establishment creating a system where violence is accepted as a norm and where the aggressor is considered a hero.

One can cite the recent example of the rise of Imran Khan, who built up his vote bank by abusing his political rivals throughout his years in opposition and then threatened to hang or lock up his political opponents. He locked down cities as a protest to oust prime minister Nawaz Sharif and encouraged his supporters to abuse political opponents and dissenting journalists, and gave tacit approval to the Faizabad sit-in sponsored by the invisible forces to accuse the PML-N government of blasphemy.

Likewise, in 2007, the Lawyers’ Movement for the restoration of the judiciary was sponsored by a faction of the establishment that was not happy with General Pervez Musharraf. Sharif, even though he knew the movement was backed by the establishment, still led it. As a result, the lawyers and their bar associations became more powerful and they started thinking that they were the most powerful segment of society. And now we have seen in the PIC attack how dangerous they have become.

There is no concept of shared responsibility toward fellow human beings; what we are seeing right now is different opportunist groups enslaved to their political, personal and self-interest-based ideologies living in a society that breeds violence and encourages lawlessness. The irony is that even the educated people in Pakistani society do not like to go into the details of such incidents to find out the root causes of the problem. There is always a chain of events that produces events like this. Otherwise, it is not hard to understand that what we have seen in the attack on PIC Lahore is a glimpse of the growing intolerance and extremism in Pakistani society.

The lawyers who ransacked PIC should be brought to justice, but we as a society need to realize that this mobocracy is being promoted by the authorities themselves. When the attack on Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) and the siege of the Supreme Court were justified during the agitation by Imran Khan; when Sharif’s PML-N’s attack on the Supreme Court in 1997 was defended; when the Lawyers’ Movement was backed by the establishment; when the establishment sponsored a sit-in at Faizabad against an elected government and distributed money among those who burned public properties; when attacks on government ministers were justified; when the recent siege of Dawn was celebrated by the establishment and “sponsored” journalists justified it, the authorities were laying the foundation of this kind of mobocracy.

All the stakeholders in the power corridors in Pakistan should take responsibility for standing behind the process of making this society violent, intolerant and disrespectful of the law. Meanwhile, Pakistani citizens need to think about what good it will do for future generations to remain enslaved to personal benefits or ideologies and contribute to the breeding of violence in society.

To end this lawlessness, the establishment needs to stop using mobs to target its opponents. We are sitting on a ticking time-bomb of self-destructive violence against one another and living under the rule of mobocracy.

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