Pawn sacrifice

Published August 19, 2022

IT must be lonely being Shahbaz Gill these days. With his own party now back-pedalling from its ‘moral support’ for the controversial statements he made during a TV show last week, Mr Gill must be feeling abandoned and forlorn.

The unequivocal condemnations now being directed at him by other PTI leaders threaten to blow away the fig leaf of his only plausible defence: that the most problematic remarks he made were never intended for the armed forces but were directed at civil servants instead.

Due to the blowback from the incident, there had been a visible modulation in the PTI’s combative posture over the past week. Till yesterday, it seemed the party’s leadership was reconsidering its tactics to pressure the security establishment to reconsider its alleged backing of the incumbent regime. It would appear that a consensus had been reached even within the PTI ranks that, whatever his intended meaning and audience, Mr Gill definitely did cross a line.

Mr Imran Khan, who Mr Gill serves as chief of staff, earlier this week called his remarks “wrong” and regretted that they were ever uttered. Just a day later, one of Mr Khan’s closest confidants, Faisal Javed, went so far as to call for legal proceedings against Mr Gill “because such statements cannot be acceptable”. It seems that they had realised that Mr Gill may have poked a sleeping beast right in the eye.

There now remains the important question of whether Mr Gill made those remarks of his own accord or whether he was dictated or handed a statement to deliver. The government is hell-bent on proving the latter, as is evident from its tug-of-war over Mr Gill’s custody, which devolved into a two-hour stand-off between the Rawalpindi and Islamabad police late Wednesday night.

Editorial: Police excesses

The question of his missing mobile phone — which the government believes holds evidence important to the case — has still not been resolved. It may never be, considering the time that has elapsed since Mr Gill’s arrest.

In any case, the concerns over torture allegedly perpetrated against Mr Gill are valid and must be looked into forthwith. The police should conduct their investigations, but they should not exceed the bounds of the law.

It is also worth asking again why the government is falling over itself to prosecute this case when the military, the party allegedly affected by Mr Gill’s remarks, has yet to initiate any proceedings against him.

Meanwhile, the PTI seems to be wasting its breath arguing that PDM leaders should be similarly prosecuted for statements they have made in the past against the military leadership. Military involvement in politics is bound to invite criticism from political quarters. Mr Gill, on the other hand, stands accused of fomenting discord within the military’s ranks, which, if proven in a court of law, is a much more severe offence compared to mere criticism.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2022

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