Grave mistakes

Published May 13, 2023

AS in all things, moderation goes a long way in politics. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf will realise this, as the consequences of the whiplash violence triggered by Imran Khan’s arrest start to manifest.

The unusually aggressive reaction from the military in response to the vandalism of its facilities, bolstered by the unanimous condemnation from government leaders, suggests that the PTI may soon face a serious existential challenge.

It bears noting that the public reaction to Mr Khan’s arrest may not have been as volatile had the party not insisted on setting a so-called ‘red line’ on his arrest. This, along with persistent messaging that Mr Khan was in mortal danger at the hands of certain elements, seems to have triggered sympathisers to react violently when he was finally picked up.

The PTI leadership should have immediately condemned the violence and strongly urged its supporters to desist from creating trouble for themselves. But it desisted.

Violence is a sign of desperation. It rarely yields long-term benefits. Considering the quantum of lives lost, injuries suffered, and arrests made since the PTI went on the warpath last year, its ‘narrative’ has already proven rather costly to the party itself.

Arrest and incarceration have been, rather unfortunately, almost a rite of passage for Pakistani politicians. It was foolish of the PTI to assume that it could avoid the treatment meted out to other political leaders who were equally, if not more, popular in their heyday.

Maturity would have demanded that the PTI leaders braved the challenge individually, as a personal sacrifice for their political cause, and not let their well-wishers get in harm’s way. Perhaps the party is still learning. But this particular lesson is not likely to come easy.

Mr Khan should perhaps not have been arrested, and definitely not in the manner in which he was. The ugliness with which the state went after him seems to have validated the fears held by his party and contributed to the violent backlash. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the government and the establishment to also make amends.

The overwhelming power they currently enjoy should not blind them to the fact that they have essentially issued a declaration of war against a large segment of the Pakistani citizenry. Grave mistakes and miscalculations have been made by both sides. Both must show flexibility and review their terms of engagement.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2023

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