South Asia

Witnessing the 'Murder of Democracy' in Lahore's Tear-Gassed Zaman Park

One of Imran Khan's neighbours pens a frantic account of the Lahore locale which saw Pakistani police and security forces engage in a battle with supporters of the PTI party for the last two days.

On Tuesday, March 14, Pakistan police officials arrived to arrest former prime minister Imran Khan over his non-appearance in court in a case related to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf leader allegedly selling off gifts he received while he was PM, illegally. For the next two days fierce clashes were seen between Khan’s supporters and police officials outside Khan’s Lahore residence, leaving several injured. Police and the Rangers forces are learned to have teargassed the protestors, who in turn are accused of having pelted stones at them. The situation unfolded as Khan tweeted that this was an attempt to abduct and assassinate him. By evening yesterday, March 15, security forces had withdrawn after a court order. Critics inside and outside Pakistan have called the police action a remarkable overreach and a tactic to delay elections.

The following is a late-night account written on March 15 by one of Imran Khan’s neighbours at Zaman Park.


This year, spring did not come to the city of my birth, Lahore. Yet, in Zaman Park, the sumbul and chirri chonch have bloomed, setting the sky on fire. This year, the fragrant bur of the mango trees flowered earlier than usual, portending a long, stifling summer.

Yet, there is a chill that falls every time the intent of murder is repeated, from a fearful mouth to a listening ear.

This year, the lungs of my city are choked with dust and despair, yet the hearts of men and women are full of hope as they stand, shoulder to shoulder, vowing to protect the man who has captivated the imagination of millions in this, my beloved, blighted country.

I am now amongst these people, ordinary men and women who dared to dream of a society free of injustice, free of corruption, cleansed of malice towards the weak, strengthened by a sense of self-worth, unhampered by the machinations of intrigue and insidious agendas empowering tyrants and emasculating truth. I am now one of these people, pushing forward in the face of gross injustice, a fractured polity, broken economy, the blatant, brazen crushing of democratic dreams. I am one of these people, ordinary sons and daughters of this soil, fighting through the shelling of poisonous gas, choking back the tears, breathing despite the rank air of contempt and fear which surrounds the operation to put out the fire that blazes now.

I am one of these people, facing the wrath of an embittered, emboldened dispensation which is neither civil nor military, for even in war there are conventions.

I am one of these people who run into the side lanes, into the open driveways of neighbourhood houses, running towards the drums of water where others like me wash out venom from our eyes and throats and lungs. I am one of the women who cry out that my skin is burning, do not go near the water cannons, the water is toxic, I am one of the people who run back and then forth again, into the eye of the storm, believing that this moment in history is one which will live for both the ignominy of a fearful regime, and for the courage of ordinary sons and daughters who stand up for the dream of a just society.

I am proud to be one of those people, for even if they come tonight, in the dark of night, to take away our dreams, they will not prevail, for dreams live forever, while we can choose to awaken from the nightmare of seventy-five years of rape and plunder, lies and lassitude, murder and mayhem. The air is thick with noxious fumes, but there is also the admirable energy sparked by the courage of a people who have stood up to protect that dream. I can hear the shelling of tear gas as I run for safety, gasping for breath, grasping the moment for what it is: a war by the state against its nation, nation-wide, until good shall prevail over evil, until justice protects the law, and the law protects justice.

We push forward again and again. Young men from Swat and Swabi, old men from Shalimar and Shahdarah, women declaring that they are ready to give their lives to protect their leader. Before us stands the apparatus of a shameless edifice propped up by the false courage of cowardice. We continue to press forward; the sky bursts with the firing of shells and canons. From our ranks, we cry out ‘Allah o Akbar’ in response to the call for Takbeer. We continue to push against this malevolent dispensation, we continue to fight for the right to live in a just society, free of fear, free of hunger.

As I write this my eyes are burning, the tears flow freely, for I am witness both to the birth of an undying dream, and to the greatest murder of all: the murder of the aspirations of the people of this land, the murder of a path towards a society free of want and wanton greed…tonight, on the eve of the Ides of March, I am witness to the murder of democracy.

Feryal Ali Gauhar is a writer, cultural conservator, and advisor to the Water and Power Development Authority, Pakistan.