What next?

Published May 11, 2023

NOW that the state has Imran Khan in custody, does it have a plan for what comes next? The PTI’s vast support base — a majority of the citizenry, if recent polls are to be believed — is seething with rage. How do the powers that be plan to mollify this agitated lot?

The PTI leadership may have distanced itself from the violence following Mr Khan’s arrest, but it ought to have condemned the same in clear words to discourage more people from taking the law in their hands. Instead, Wednesday saw a fresh round of violence in major cities, with dozens of needless injuries and a mounting death toll.

Meanwhile, around 1,000 protesters had been picked by Wednesday afternoon in Punjab alone. Many major cities of the country were being policed under Section 144, which curtails fundamental rights.

Key communication services remained offline as the state scrambled to keep protesters from organising on a larger scale, and the army had been requisitioned in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Is this to be our new normal?

In the long list of follies committed under the present regime, the manner in which Mr Khan’s arrest was effected stands out. The former prime minister was seized by a paramilitary force that does not answer to civilian authorities, for an alleged crime for which even government ministers dare not name the other party.

Mr Khan had indeed been increasingly confrontational against the present dispensation, but was arresting him the only way to ensure peace? Indeed, the arrest only seems to have reinforced the perception that yet another civilian government has joined hands with unelected powers to ‘take out’ a popular political leader simply because they threaten their individual interests.

It is deeply regrettable that the PDM parties, despite the many sufferings of their own leaders, are aiding the crackdown. There is little that is democratic about the manner in which they have chosen to act, and they may one day pay a heavy price for their complicity today.

Mr Khan must be thoroughly investigated over all allegations of corruption and wrongdoing against him. The case in which he was arrested, for instance, involves a dubious, multibillion-rupee deal, and the public deserves answers.

However, the ruling parties must realise that they cannot claim any moral superiority over him if they must continue to insist on treating him in the same manner that they themselves were hounded in the past.

The PDM would do well to remember that it had taken over government to put an end to a long-running cycle of political persecution. It must not perpetuate it for another generation. The ugliness has to stop. The country has suffered greatly in this clash of egos. The government must put an end to it.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2023

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