Chilling tactics

Published April 12, 2022

IT seems that some forces attempted to exploit the power vacuum during the absence of a government in Islamabad. In the early hours of Sunday, about a dozen unidentified men ‘raided’ the home of Arsalan Khalid, recently ousted prime minister Imran Khan’s focal person on digital media.

The ‘raid’, if it can be called that, happened shortly after Mr Khan was voted out of office. The intruders reportedly threatened Mr Khalid’s family and seized their phones and laptops. Judging by the remarks of former SAPM Shahbaz Gill, it seems the party is aware of who ordered the raid and also that it was expecting it.

It is telling that the PTI publicly addressed its concerns on the matter to the FIA, a civilian security agency.

This is a condemnable development. For too long, arbitrary raids, seizures and detentions have been employed as a tool of choice by elements within the state for ‘objectives’ that they may not otherwise be able to legally achieve.

These extrajudicial actions have a chilling effect on voices critical of policies favoured by powerful factions within the state, not to mention they violate fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. Clearly, whoever ordered the raid wishes to keep Mr Khalid under their control.

In the same context, it is strange that the FIA, which otherwise operates under the interior ministry, seems to have independently decided to place the names of five individuals considered close to Mr Khan on a ‘stop-list’, if a newspaper report is to be believed.

Apart from Mr Khalid and Mr Gill, the former prime minister’s principal secretary, the DG anti-corruption Punjab, and former DG FIA Punjab Zone II, who had been investigating now Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab chief minister hopeful Hamza Shehbaz, have been barred from leaving the country, according to the report.

It has not been forgotten that the PTI itself oversaw the suppression of critical voices and silencing of dissent through very similar means. It was wrong then as it is wrong now.

The incoming government had taken the higher ground by assuring there would be no victimisation of political opponents; however, this clearly is not going to be enough. It is time for all parties which derive their legitimacy from the power of democracy to unanimously condemn and prevent such occurrences from happening again and again. The vicious cycle of the state silencing citizens and depriving them of their freedoms must stop.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2022

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