PTI chief Imran Khan was arrested. The country erupted into protest as PTI supporters took to the streets and the government responded by the law enforcing agencies firing at mobs, and by suspending mobile data services and some websites, in an effort to contain the protesters. Mr Khan was granted five bail by the Islamabad High Court after the Supreme Court ruled that that arrest was illegal, and the PTI supporters were left to celebrate, opponents to regret. However, the entire nation was left to count the cost of the protests.
The first cost must be the loss of life. As many as eight people were reported killed all over the country, as the result of police firing. Official buildings were damaged on a large scale in cantonments, and will have to be repaired at the taxpayer’s expense. The gutted Radio Pakistan building in Peshawar and the Corps Commander’s residence in Lahore provide an example of another kind of damage, which makes the cost irreparable. Both were historic sites, the latter being owned by the Quaid-e-Azam until it was requisition by the Army during World War II. No matter what repairs are carried out, the new structure is not the original. Then there the costs imposed by the ban on mobile data, as the shift to a digital economy received a huge shock. Point-o-sale transactions, where consumers used credit cards to pay for transactions, were reportedly down about 50 percent, both because of the internet being down, and because people were not going to shop for reasons of safety. The all-important deal with the IMF, already barely on the table because of Pakistan’s unwillingness to abandon its Chinese relationship, has been pushed farther away. The rupee has weakened against the dollar, putting further pressure on the government and its foreign debt servicing needs. This does not count the loss of production and income that has resulted.
Apart from the images sent around the world of Pakistan as a place where an ex-PM was arrested, and that this led to frequently violent riots, his getting bail has created doubts about the entire dispute resolution system of the country. The importance of this example was probably enhanced by its being a NAB case. It does not seem the nightmare is over. As both sides gear up for further clashes, it seems likely that no one is counting the cost.