THE Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has been made to suffer a steep price for the events of May 9. It appears deflated in the wake of a sweeping crackdown against its most ardent supporters and sympathisers, and has been depleted by the exodus of several key leaders from its ranks. However, it would be a mistake to write the party off just yet.
It may be diminished, but it is not defeated. Imran Khan enjoys remarkable public support for his cause. The PTI chairman recently told his supporters that, despite whatever they may be suffering today, they have already won the narrative war.
He believes his party’s message has resonated so deeply with millions of Pakistanis that it will remain alive in the hearts of a vast cross-section of the citizenry. This majority may have been forced into silence, but they will not so easily forget this message. He may not be wrong.
Mr Khan, his party and its supporters may have made some grievous missteps and mistakes in recent weeks. The right way to punish them would be to do so through the criminal justice system.
We are living in an age of unprecedented hyperconnectivity, where every act of oppression and resistance gets documented, disseminated and archived for future reference. Excessive measures by the state will only turn them into bigger martyrs in the eyes of ordinary people.
One cannot put a lid on the brewing storm by rounding up a few thousand PTI supporters or arresting and re-arresting the party’s leaders. With the challenges the country is facing, especially those arising from its fast-sinking economy, the situation represents a ticking bomb. Very soon, the hungry and the desperate will be joining the political workers on the streets.
Against this backdrop, the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency has offered the authorities sage advice. “Only a free and fair and timely election can bring back desperately-needed political stability in Pakistan,” Pildat has said.
It has asked for the prosecution of lawbreakers involved in the May 9 violence, but through civilian courts; urged the armed forces to steer clear of politics, reminding them it’s not their place; and underlined the need for urgent political dialogue between the government and the PTI. Those words should be heeded. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif may not be interested in talking to the PTI, but he must for the sake of the country.
The anger, resentment and frustration that are building up in the body politic can only be released safely through a fair fight at the polls. This is no time to repeat dangerous experiments that can only end in ignominy and regrets. The stakeholders need to take a step back and let democracy take its course. All of Pakistan should not suffer for their egos.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2023