Banning PTI

Published May 25, 2023

THE idea would be unthinkable in any self-respecting democracy, yet here we are again. The government is considering banning the PTI over the events of May 9 and 10, according to Defence Minister Khawaja Asif.

Though Mr Asif has said whatever decision is taken will be referred to parliament, can we expect restraint after both the government and legislature, despite repeated warnings from concerned observers, endorsed the army’s proposal to try ordinary citizens under military laws?

Clearly, this is the season for bad ideas, and the government appears to be tempted to test another one out. It ought to remember, though, that banning parties cannot win it votes. If anything, the move would likely further antagonise a large section of voters and weaken the legitimacy of whatever government takes the reins from the current one.

Mr Asif’s remarks may have been aimed at projecting that his government has great control, but they also ended up underlining how bereft of ideas the PDM has been in mounting a political offensive.

Indeed, the government seems to realise its vulnerable position, which is why free rein is being given to the shadow state to deal with the challenge posed by the PTI. These elements have gone about this task with signature, ham-fisted violence.

The practice of labelling and treating entire social/cultural groups as ‘traitors’ is as old as our country: one has only to ask anyone living in the peripheries of what they have been made to suffer on this count. Nonetheless, it is unsettling to see the state displaying its deplorable aspects in the heartlands.

It is true that PTI’s senior leadership has displayed a remarkable lack of spine by preferring to leave the party or relinquish their post within it — unlike so many politicians of other parties who have, at one time or another, fearlessly faced the establishment’s wrath. Yet, the state’s tactics have been criticised by even those without sympathy for PTI and Imran Khan.

Insisting on severely punishing the PTI for its mistakes is no answer. Banning the PTI tells its support base that there is no space for them in the Pakistani political system.

If these people are not to be allowed to express themselves through the ballot box, which forum will they turn to? The PML-N exalted democracy when it was down and out.

The ‘vote ko izzat do’ slogan that kept it alive after 2018 resonated with the public because it called for respecting the vox populi. Its leaders should now not appear so willing to sacrifice their principles at the altar of political expediency.

The government has been repeatedly warned that it may be going too far — to its own detriment. It should heed those warnings and reconsider the path it plans to take.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2023

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