FORMER prime minister Imran Khan’s remarks that he called off his protest, not because he had reached a deal but because he feared there would be bloodshed can only be swallowed with a heavy pinch of salt. Speaking at a press conference in Peshawar yesterday, he said he became aware of the “extent of the situation” when he reached Islamabad. “I knew that day there would be violence,” he said, claiming that his supporters were “ready” after seeing the “terrorism” of the police. “Everyone was ready to fight,” he added. It is true that the police used unnecessary force against PTI activists who were exercising their right to protest. Such harsh tactics are condemnable. However, political temperatures were already running high when Mr Khan announced his march, and the clashes in Lahore were an indication that things could spiral out of control. Why then did the PTI leader decide to continue to Islamabad?
Indeed, with PTI supporters pouring fuel over trees and setting them ablaze near D-Chowk, the original destination, one can conclude that the possibility of bloodshed was not a last-minute concern. Marchers who set off from Swabi destroyed the green belt on the Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway near the Swabi-Jehangira Road. Many activists had no qualms about cutting off branches to hoist the flags they were carrying. Local authorities say it would take around three months to restore the damage to the green belt. The party leadership should be ready to take action against the miscreants who resorted to violence, arson and the destruction of public property, instead of justifying their actions. For instance, last week, former minister Asad Umar had warned that if an attempt was made to arrest the former prime minister, even he would not be able to control the supporters’ reaction. Moreover, Mr Khan in yesterday’s press conference once again equated his protest with jihad and said all those who participated were heroes. This indicates that the leadership knew that violence could erupt and that it was possibly some other reason that stopped the march.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022