Even though the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had claimed that it would allow the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to march on Islamabad, two days before the actual protest, the government rescinded this decision and instead decided to crackdown on PTI supporters, while announcing that it would not let Imran Khan and his supporters ‘hold the capital hostage’. The chaos started Monday night, when several raids were conducted on PTI leaders’ residences, till the next day when all pretences were dropped. A Punjab Police constable lost his life as a result of firing during the action on Monday night.

The actions of the government in restricting the march have been widely condemned and rightly so. It is unfortunate that barely a month after coming into power, the new government, which suffered political victimisation at the hands of the PTI, took no time in trying to clamp down on the opposition in its turn on the treasury benches. PML-N’s arguments for clamping down on the protest are weak—according to law minister Rana Sanaullah, the cabinet has decided not to let PTI go ahead with its long march in order to avoid the spread of “fitna” and “fasad”, referring to constable Kamal Ahmad, who was gunned down last night during a police raid at a PTI leader’s house in Lahore’s Model Town.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in the handling of the Faizabad dharna case, expressly recognised the right to protest and stipulated that citizens have the right to peacefully protest and hold demonstrations, and may do so against any action or decision of a government or authority—the legal test for restricting this right is highly narrow and cannot be used at a whim.

Not only are the crackdowns on this protest and political workers undemocratic, it is also counterproductive for the government. Targeting rival politicians for merely protesting is not only against the spirit of democracy, but it also does the government itself no favours since such arrests usually lend prominence and credibility to the protesters’ cause, whether legitimate or not. The government should be trying to cool tempers and avoid confrontation, not lead us down a path of more polarisation and violence. Better sense is expected from at least one side in this entire affair.