It is disheartening to see a political party such as the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) facing the stress of disintegration– bordering on dissolution. The violent incidents of May 9 are becoming the PTI’s undoing.
On May 9, the PTI played naïve despite the fact that it had gathered in its ranks veteran politicians from multiple religio-political parties. The PTI played immature in the sense that the party failed to differentiate between staging a demonstration to voice its protest and launching a physical manoeuver to assert its gripe.
Retrospectively, in the events of May 25, 2022, a prelude to May 9 was present. On May 25, 2022, responding to the Azadi March call, PTI workers set on fire trees in Islamabad’s Blue Area. The “like-minded bench” of the Supreme Court disregarded the torching event by saying that this might be a strategy of PTI workers to dampen down the smoke of tear gas fired by the police. Pardon from state functionaries remained the prime nudge to bring the PTI workers to carry out May 9. Who can hold the “like-minded bench” answerable is yet to be seen
Veteran politicians failed to perform in the sense that they took an emotionally charged mob to the streets but later on they left the crowd to its own devices, which were surfaced as nothing else but vandalism and incendiarism. Reportedly, the sites of demonstration had been pre-decided. It is unclear if physical attacks had been pre-planned.
The Model Town incident of 2014 had made the Lahore Police cognizant of their vulnerability at the hands of human rights groups. Further, the anti-riot police had experienced its inability to subdue PTI supporters to arrest the party chairman, Imran Khan, from his Zaman Park residence on March 14 this year, when a police party arrived from Islamabad to arrest Khan. On May 9, the anti-riot police were fewer in number and attenuated in response to resist any mass protest. This is the point where a major deficiency in the governing system is noticeable.
Before the advent of the era of the military dictator General Pervaiz Musharraf, there was a magistracy system in place. A Magistrate with the powers of Section 30 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was available 24 hours to respond to any deteriorating law and order situation in the area of his jurisdiction. On duty, he was also a negotiator to converse with and calm down a rowdy mob. The police used to be at his disposal. He also acted as a cushion between brute (police) force and an uncontrolled frenzied mob.
If this system had been extant on May 9, the Corps Commander Lahore would not have to negotiate himself with representatives of the mob at his house, aka Jinnah House. It is a good idea to keep the judiciary separate from the executive but the cost of separation has been borne by those who were lynched and even burnt alive by mobs, on one allegation or the other, while the police stood as silent spectators. Now, the uniform, whether it is of the Police or the Rangers, is face to face with a common man who wants to vent his feelings against any act of the state.
What happened on March 14 at Zaman Park could have been avoided, if the magistracy system had been functional. May 9 also taught that there should have been a cushion between a uniform-wearing force and a raucous mob.
Much has been voiced about military courts, which are otherwise anachronistic– not related to the age Pakistan is passing through. In 2023, punishing civilians through military courts is a ridiculous idea. Even the presence of military courts for trying civilians is absurd, not acceptable to human rights groups present locally or abroad. For addressing the wrong done on May 9, the better idea is to establish special magistrate courts which would punish the culprits for the violation of Section 30 of CrPC.
From a different perspective, the future of the arrested offenders would be decided by the way designer Khadija Shah (daughter of a former federal minister, grand-daughter of a former COAS) is treated by the law– or by the authorities. Reportedly, on May 9, she led the attack on Jinnah House. She was conspicuously present. Her case is bound to set the precedent for how retribution would work. Her case would decide if the concept of “Elite Capture” could rescue her or not. This is the same vile notion which was reviled by the PTI. Let her pass through the rigours of military courts to be sentenced for life imprisonment. The Army must make her an example before trying other civilians.
By the way, where are other characters who made May 9 possible eventually? Where is Sheikh Rasheed who kept on inciting PTI workers by raising incendiary slogans such as “Jalao, Gherao; Aag laga doon ga” (Burn, Besifei, I will set on fire) He uttered these words in Lahore and Islamabad on different occasions to inflame PTI workers into ransacking and scorching the country. Is he being favoured just because he is a product of Gate Number Four of the General Head Quarters?
Similarly, what about the anchorpersons and analysts such as Kamran Shahid, Ajmal Jami, Kashif Abbasi, Habib Akram, Amir Zia and Irshad Bhatti who supported “jatha politics” (gang politics) and kept on encouraging PTI workers, who resorted to doing acts of disruption and disorder. Oriya Maqbool Jan, Hasan Nisar and Lt. General (retd) Amjad Shoaib are already notorious for condoning spiteful acts of the PTI workers. Just listen to Dr Moeed Pirzada, Sami Ibrahim, and Sabir Shakir, how disappointed they are at the defeat of the aggressors. These media personalities were the backbone of the PTI politicians who are now jumping off the PTI ship: hold a press conference, condemn May 9, regret joining the PTI, cast aspersions on the PTI Chairman, and announce abandoning the party. That is it; be drycleaned. Nevertheless, designer Khadija Shah is not a politician (a political representative) to adopt the same course to save her skin.
Retrospectively, in the events of May 25, 2022, a prelude to May 9 was present. On May 25, 2022, responding to the Azadi March call, PTI workers set on fire trees in Islamabad’s Blue Area. The “like-minded bench” of the Supreme Court disregarded the torching event by saying that this might be a strategy of PTI workers to dampen down the smoke of tear gas fired by the police. Pardon from state functionaries remained the prime nudge to bring the PTI workers to carry out May 9. Who can hold the “like-minded bench” answerable is yet to be seen.