Timely remorse

Published September 23, 2022

THE remorse and humility on display at the Islamabad High Court yesterday would have been unremarkable had it been any other person on the stand. The august courts of this land have usually given short shrift to hubris.

Yet, Mr Imran Khan had survived hearing after hearing, refusing to tender a straight apology to Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry, against whom he had, during a public rally on Aug 20 in Islamabad, used language considered contemptuous by many. One had wondered why the IHC was seemingly lenient towards Mr Khan when he was not interested in making any amends. It was only when the IHC finally ran out of patience and made it clear that it would prosecute him if need be that Mr Khan saw the error of his ways.

Even a symbolic punishment for contempt — as once prescribed for former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani — is enough to knock a politician out of the race for a five-year period. Perhaps that is why the apology yesterday was humble and unequivocal. Mr Khan even expressed a willingness to seek Judge Chaudhry’s forgiveness in person if the court so desired. Quite the change of heart in a man whose pride keeps getting in his way.

Read: The promise of Imran Khan

Mr Khan should never have used the sort of language he did against the judge, and it is hoped that he has learnt his lesson. Hopefully, he will take the opportunity to reflect on his needless disparagement of other state institutions as well as his political opponents.

If Pakistan had more rigid libel laws, the PTI chairman would have been sued mercilessly for the litany of unfounded allegations he keeps making against anyone who dares cross him. Bullying opponents from the pulpit is easy when your star is rising, and the might of the people is behind you. However, this is a demagogue’s path to power, and the country needs more leaders, not rabble-rousers.

As Mr Khan embarks on phase two of his mission to topple the government — which kicks off this Saturday — now would be a good time to reassess strategies. Spreading chaos shouldn’t be an option in achieving political objectives. There is much for the country to lose if political instability crosses the threshold and results in a confrontation between the citizens and the state.

Whatever Mr Khan wants, he must demand civilly and while remaining within the bounds of the law. He will be well within his rights to do so. The government, too, would be well-advised not to resort to high-handed tactics in its zeal to block Mr Khan’s pursuit of his ambitions. The interior minister has recently taken to threatening ‘fumigation’ of D-chowk, as if protesters are nothing more than cockroaches. Let us hope that this is not how he sees citizens in opposing political camps.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2022

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