Imran’s arrest: Chronicles of my peaceful protest

The PTI chief's arrest may have been the spark that ignited the fire, but the fuel has been accumulating for years in the form of neglected societal, economic, and governance failures.
Published May 12, 2023

The cacophony was alarming; the loud thud and harrowing screams set my heart racing as I turned around to see a frenzied mob dispersing aimlessly. On their heel were police officers, garbed in militaristic gear, beating and arresting anyone in their way. The loud thud I heard was human flesh being hit recklessly by a long bamboo stick, and the screams were from people being manhandled and forced into a white police truck.

Panicked, I made a run for it in the opposite direction, only to see another truck flanked by police officers coming towards us.

The arrest

Just a few hours ago, I was typing away on my laptop, when my phone started buzzing incessantly, distracting me from my work. A quick glance revealed a shocking new development — I rushed down to the TV room, bellowing the news of Imran Khan’s arrest. Within seconds, my entire family had convened in the TV room, our eyes fixated on the flashing red breaking news tickers and banners screaming disjointed details of the arrest inside the Islamabad High Court premises.

Imran Khan, the chief of PTI, had been arrested moments ago, and the ‘red line’ of millions, a psychological barrier for many of his supporters, had been crossed.

Arguably the most popular leader in the country today, Imran had been arrested in a case of alleged corruption involving his wife, property tycoon Malik Riaz, as well as several other prominent politicians. The recurring televised aerial footage was chilling — a 70-year-old man, a cricketing legend and a political stalwart who had survived an assassination attempt and sustained three bullet wounds just a few months ago, was manhandled and dragged by an intimidating cadre of Rangers personnel in their ominous black uniforms.

Journey to NAB Islamabad

A group of us in Islamabad, led by women — a courageous lot — met at the intersection between Saddar Road and Municipal Road to stage a peaceful protest. However, barbed wires sealed the intersection, protecting the NAB office, some 200 meters away from the entrance.

I noticed how every police officer behind that barbed wire seemed on edge. My gut told me that something was different today — the police force’s militaristic attire, rigid demeanour, and menacing glares all suggested an imminent and unsettling reality: our right to protest would be denied today, with arrest a likely consequence.

Undeterred, we navigated the streets along the rustic government homes and finally reached the NAB Islamabad office. We stood 50 yards away in a compressed street packed with media vans, the latter buzzing with noise and black smoke emanating from the generators running behind them.

During our silent, peaceful protest, a well-built man dressed in a white shalwar kameez approached me and told me that the police had already charged protesters at the main entrance of the street and arrested many of them. He warned me that in the next five minutes, they would come for us. By the time I turned around to inform my colleagues, they had already started walking towards the entrance of the street as they had heard a commotion from the other side.

Run Forest run

When the police charged us, our group scattered in different directions. While running, I thought about the efficacy of the impending strikes from the bamboo sticks. My mind also echoed the iconic “Run, Forest Run” line from the film Forest Gump, where the protagonist runs fast to escape the bullies from school.

I had never run this fast, and still, I could hear the footsteps of the police officers gaining on me and see more stick-wielding police officers in front of me closing in. I quickly looked around to check whether any of those surrounding houses could offer refuge — one of them with a black wrought-iron gate had two curious heads peeping out from a small portal waving towards me to come inside. I entered hurriedly, and one of the boys quickly closed the gate and asked me to stay quiet.

After around 20 minutes, I thanked Talib Hussain and his brother, who let me into their home and saved me from getting arrested. I went outside when the coast was clear, rushed to my car, and drove to a friend’s house nearby to regroup and prepare for the protest at D-Chowk later that night.

Protest, but do not vandalise

That afternoon, my cellphone and internet ceased to work. I heard from fellow protesters around me that things had gone out of hand in some cities across Pakistan. Some even showed me videos where protesters had ransacked government property, and many had shamelessly thrown stones at our army jawans and destroyed historical monuments.

It was depressing to see the atrocities committed across Pakistan. Such vandalism and violence have no place in our society. They sabotage the effort towards a sustainable democracy and marginalise the efforts of those, like us, who advocate for change through peaceful protest.

Among the citizens protesting peacefully, I also felt that frustrations were at an all-time high. Mounting food costs, shrinking access to healthcare and medicines, and a subpar education system rendering our youth uncompetitive globally are legitimate frustrations of the nation. Job scarcity and inaccessible capital, compounded by a staggering unemployment rate, have forced many into joblessness.

Add to that list a large, sluggish, and unaccountable bureaucracy running our cities into the ground, denying the opportunity for local representation and a deep-rooted resentment against the establishment’s reluctance to surrender its undemocratic grip on power.

Being among the crowd, listening to their stories, and watching the malicious damage caused to government property, led me to believe that arresting Imran Khan was a tipping point. The arrest had served as a catalyst, triggering the release of long-contained frustrations stemming from decades of poor governance, elite capture, and subpar policy.

Still, nothing above or beyond validates the vandalism displayed, especially the ones directed at our jawans and bases. The PTI vs establishment narrative is nothing but a mere distraction, a displacement of attention from not delivering what matters to the public — good governance, jobs, healthcare.

We all can have our political differences, and in a democracy, you can raise objections to Imran Khan’s views, statements, and policies, but by eliminating him and his senior leaders from the political realm, PDM, the establishment, and the rent-seekers of this country have misread the pulse of the nation.

They have shown inflexibility in hearing any opposition, have made draconian efforts to make social media platforms inaccessible, and, in the process of creating an equilibrium, which any army is trained to do, undermined the importance of democratic disequilibrium, which is a cornerstone to progress for any democratic country.

Imran Khan’s arrest may have been the spark that ignited the fire, but the fuel has been accumulating for years in the form of neglected societal, economic, and governance failures.

With deaths being reported among protesters, and hundreds in jail, we can no longer, in good consciousness, continue to anchor ourselves on party positions. The interest of the country is paramount.

Failing to create space for dialogue, discrediting the Constitution, undermining democratic principles, and running away from free and fair elections is a recipe for continued disaster. Cooler, saner, and democratic heads must prevail. This calamity must end.

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