The lessons of May 9

Published June 28, 2023
The writer is an author and journalist.
The writer is an author and journalist.

THE writing on the wall has been there for some time and the military spokesman just spelled it out the other day. The noose is tightening around those he described as the mastermind and planners of the May 9 mayhem. There was no ambiguity about who he was referring to.

Although no one was named, there is a clear indication that the PTI chief, along with some of his senior party leaders, could be charged with subversion. It is yet another episode of the Greek tragedy that this country has seen many times in its treacherous political history. Once projected as a saviour and now condemned to ignominy, Imran Khan stands accused of inciting his supporters to insurrection.

But what happened on May 9 manifests a more intricate plot. It is still an unfolding story. Several military installations, including GHQ and the Lahore corps commander’s official residence, were breached across the country within hours of Imran Khan’s detention.

Even the memorials of martyrs were not spared. The country has never witnessed such fury against the most powerful state institution. Such large-scale targeting of the most guarded security installations has shaken the state.

Indeed, it was not just a spontaneous demonstration of public anger against the detention of their leader: Khan’s arrest had long been declared a ‘red line’ by his followers. His vicious campaign against the military leadership had galvanised his followers.

A huge, disgruntled youth demographic was easily motivated by his powerful narrative.

The PTI chief grossly miscalculated the authority of the top command.

Yet it was not the revolt of the plebeian in the true sense of the term; a section of the elite was also at the forefront. It was an interesting mix that came out in Lahore and Rawalpindi to attack the citadel. They were many women from the privileged classes who led the protests.

For years, the establishment fed people a narrative of a former cricketing hero becoming a saviour, while other political leaders were deemed corrupt and incompetent.

The astronomical surge in Imran Khan’s mass support after he was ousted from power was also the result of the same narrative that had long been sold to the people.

The causes of the anti-establishment backlash were also inherent in the system that has long been manipulated to maintain the domination of the institution.

Besides Khan’s vitriolic narrative against his erstwhile patrons, whom he has accused of ‘betraying’ him, there had also been growing public sentiment against the establishment, fuelling the protests. But the plot thickens with reports that some senior-level army officers, too, have been purged in connection with the violent event.

Addressing a press conference earlier this week, Maj-Gen Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry, the chief military spokesman, said that three army officers were sacked as part of the military’s ‘self-accountability process’ vis-à-vis the events of May 9.

Among them was believed to be the corps commander, Lahore, who was reportedly removed from his post within hours of the ransacking of his official residence.

Besides the removal of these high-ranking officers, action against several brigadiers has also been taken. Maj-Gen Sharif said that the army had completed its process of ‘self-accountability’, maintaining that two comprehensive inquiries were conducted into the violent events that took place at army garrisons on May 9 and ‘disciplinary’ proceedings were initiated against those who failed to maintain the security and honour of the garrisons. Such large-scale action in the Pakistan Army is unprecedented.

In some cases, the family members of senior army officers were found to have been directly involved in the violent event. Indeed, it was necessary to maintain discipline in the military whose prestige has been shaken badly with the May 9 events.

But there are still some questions which need clarification. Such a large number of officers being charged with negligence raises questions about whether it was just a matter of discipline.

The inaction in the face of violent attacks in the high security zone is incomprehensible. The lieutenant general and two major generals who were removed could not have been expected to be so irresponsible.

That raises a question of whether there was an element of complicity on their part, although the military spokesman denied it. The question becomes more pertinent with reports that family members of some serving and former generals were among those being investigated in connection with what was described by the military spokesman as the darkest chapter in Pakistan’s history.

According to him: “As of now, a granddaughter of a retired four-star general, son-in-law of a retired four-star general, wife of a retired three-star general, and wife and son-in-law of a retired two-star general are facing this process of accountability on the basis of irrefutable evidence.” This demonstrates the degree of sympathy Khan enjoys among relatives of military officials.

Perhaps that was the reason Khan and his supporters were under the impression they had the backing of a section of the establishment. Some of the PTI social media handlers operating from outside the country were predicting the military’s coming out in Imran Khan’s support in the event of mass public protests.

It may have been the reason for the former prime minister’s increasingly aggressive tenor against the top army leadership while trying to assure people that his allegiance lay with the security forces. He grossly miscalculated the authority of the top command as he waited for circumstances that could bring him back to power. The illusion of a revolution was not to be realised.

But there is also a lesson for the establishment in the episode. Its deep involvement in political manipulation and power games has weakened it and affected its discipline. One hopes what happened on May 9 is not repeated.

The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100@yahoo.com

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2023

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