While action is necessary, law enforcement must be careful not to turn it into a witch-hunt

While action against the perpetrators of the May 9th carnage is needed, the execution may be going overboard. The aftermath of the violent protests that broke out after Imran Khan’s arrest have come and hit the former prime minister’s Pakistan Tehreek i Insaaf with the force of a wrecking ball.

Senior leaders including Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Shireen Mazari continue to be incarcerated under dubious circumstances and a great exodus is underway with many party members publicly parting ways with the PTI citing the events that took place after Imran Khan was whisked away by the rangers. What has been surprising however is the sheer brute force of the crackdown against the party’s rank and file.

In Lahore alone the full resources of the Punjab Police have been utilised to identify and capture as many of the people inside and near the home of the core commander which was ransacked as part of the protests. What is worse is that in cases where the police have been unable to trace the perpetrators, they have not been shy laying their hands on family members of the protesters including women and dependents.

Two things can be true at the same time. And while action against such violent protest is necessary, it should not so clearly be turning into a witch hunt. It should also not be forgotten that the investigations are being carried out by the same institutions that generated the missing persons problem. At first, mainly Pashtuns were targeted in the name of the War on Terror. Then Baloch were made to disappear in large numbers because of alleged ties to separatists. For the first time, Pakistanis from Central Punjab are being targeted, and even those still un-arrested know what it means not to have the protection of the law.

What is more, it is worth remembering that the original support base of the PTI were the urban educated elite and upper middle classes. Take the example of Khadija Shah. Considered a genius in the glitzy world of fashion, the daughter of former finance minister Dr Salman Shah, and the grandkid of former Chief of Army Staff General Asif Nawaz Janjua, Shah has been one of the many people hounded by law enforcement agencies for no crime other than being present at the scene of the violence outside the corps commander’s residence.

This indicates that the exercise is no longer about punishment, but taking a sort of revenge.

The pressure on the investigators to produce results seems to have gotten a little out of hand, as Mrs Shah’s past tweets are also being produced, which indicate both support for the PTI and criticism of the establishment. It almost seems as if the desire to punish the perpetrators of May 9 has been transformed into an excuse to take revenge for any past criticism of the establishment.

Is it possible that the quality of investigations indicates the quality of trial by military courts under the Army Act? It must not be forgotten that civilian judges are well aware of how klutzy civilian police investigations can be, and allow for that when trying cases. Here, the accused will not only find themselves facing ham handed investigations, but also judges who may well never have been in a courtroom before.

Apart from their previous record, the agencies are not inspiring confidence by their efforts. This is having the effect of creating an unjustified sympathy among the public for the attackers of May 9. Perhaps worse, if the investigations are not conducted properly, they may well lead to some of the genuinely guilty perpetrators escaping punishment because of the weakness of the cases being prepared. It should not be forgotten that the incidents of May 9 were not just evil, but also shattered national confidence in their armed forces. There is no need to railroad anyone. With investigations this badly conducted, what will the trials be like?

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The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].

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