May 9 fallout

Published May 9, 2024

A YEAR since the events of May 9, 2023, very little appears to have changed, at least from the political perspective.

In fact, there seems to be even more bad blood between the PTI and the security establishment; both sides appear unwilling to reconsider the combative stance they have taken towards each other.

In a press conference on Tuesday, the military’s spokesperson made it clear there would be no moving forward without a sincere apology from the PTI and a public disavowal of “the politics of anarchy and hate”. In response, the PTI denounced the statement as a “pack of lies” that was “full of contradictions”.

It cannot be denied that the violence directed at military symbols and installations in several parts of the country on this day last year, was a direct consequence of the narrative built by the PTI following its ouster.

The party had spent months framing the possibility of its chief’s arrest as a ‘red line’, all the while blaming and shaming the security establishment for its ouster from government in April 2022. This combustible mix, triggered by the controversial arrest of Imran Khan by Rangers personnel from the premises of the Islamabad High Court, exploded in the form of unprecedented, widespread violence by PTI supporters.

The PTI should acknowledge that it acted in an extremely irresponsible manner by leading its supporters towards such an unacceptable reaction. Thousands were targeted in reprisals by the state, and the events of the day accelerated the expansion of unelected forces’ influence in the state’s legislative and administrative apparatus.

However, the state, too, is not without blame. Rather than acting with restraint and demonstrating that it was only interested in getting justice for the wrong that it had been caused, it responded with extreme measures that seemed to have been taken from the playbooks of past dictatorships.

For example, in seeking ‘justice’ for PTI supporters’ defacement of various installations, the homes of countless civilian suspects were raided and vandalised and their residents allegedly harassed by personnel representing the state. Even women prisoners, who otherwise enjoy special protections and concessions under Pakistan’s legal system, were repeatedly denied their right to bail and kept incarcerated without trial in scores of dubious cases.

The PTI-military stand-off has been the root cause of Pakistan’s political instability. Since neither side seems interested in a resolution, perhaps the government should step in. It can offer its best resources to prosecute the May 9 cases in civilian courts, thereby ensuring a transparent judicial process.

Done fairly, this will prevent the two sides from engaging directly with each other, which only seems to be perpetuating the tensions between them. It is important that this chapter be closed satisfactorily so that the nation can move forward.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

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