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Farcical shenanigans

The country is beset with serious crises in the economic, political and security fields. Yet if one glances at the manner in which the confrontation between Imran Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government is playing out, you may be tempted to hold your head in your hands and wonder at the farcical shenanigans on display. On March 5, 2023, an Islamabad police contingent of six personnel headed by a Superintendent Police (SP) arrived at Imran Khan’s Zaman Park, Lahore residence where he has been cloistered since being wounded in the attempt on his life in Wazirabad. The police were armed with an arrest warrant issued by a court hearing the Toshakhana case, in which Imran Khan had so far failed to appear despite numerous court summons. The SP and his contingent, reportedly supported by the Lahore police, faced resistance from the crowd of PTI supporters who have been camped outside Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence for days if not weeks. Nevertheless, Senator Shibli Faraz finally appeared to speak to the police. He informed them that Imran Khan was “not available” at his Zaman Park residence. The police accompanied the Senator to Imran Khan’s room and not finding him there, beat (a tactical?) retreat. No attempt was reportedly made to search any other room in the house.

The farcical element of this exercise was revealed when, the same afternoon, Imran Khan appeared in his house’s garden and addressed his charged supporters, an event shown live by all the TV channels. If that did not leave egg on the police’s face, Fawad Chaudhry rubbed their noses in the dirt by arguing that Imran Khan had protective bail from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) till March 9, 2023, and any attempt to arrest him would be tantamount to contempt of court. Leaving aside the assumption that the IHC protective bail applies to all the 74 cases registered against Imran Khan, this fiasco raises the question whether this was just an exercise in testing the waters? If so, it left the PTI feeling victorious and the government weak and indecisive, despite Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah’s attempt to trumpet the government’s ability to arrest Imran Khan ‘whenever it desired’ (!).

To add further seasoning to the PTI’s stance, Fawad Chaudhry warned of a countrywide protest movement if Imran Khan is arrested. This may be the real concern of the government should they finally arrive at a decision to arrest Imran Khan. But does this mean the PTI leader is above the law? Is not every citizen, even a former prime minister, equal before the law? Belatedly, the unsuccessful Islamabad police team is now threatening Shibli Faraz with “misrepresenting the facts”. What is unbelievable is that the Islamabad police contingent (and their Lahore police facilitators) was unaware that Imran Khan has not left his Zaman Park residence since being wounded except one or two rare instances where he has appeared before a court with a huge swell of his supporters in attendance. If you, I and the lamppost know this, how come the police is ‘unaware’ of this fact?

In his subsequent address, Imran Khan cited threats to his life and the inadequate security provided by the state to a former prime minister during his rare court appearances as the reason for his reluctance to appear before all the other courts where he faces cases. He might as well have added that he had no wish to step onto the traditional merry-go-round of court cases used to harass opposition leaders in our history. While one can sympathise with anyone receiving this time-honoured treatment, Imran Khan cannot be allowed to get away with a practice that suggests different rules apply to him. As it is, the superior judiciary, whether rightly or inadvertently, is being seen more and more as partisan, fractured, and eroding through such steps as ‘manipulation’ of benches the respect and dignity owed to it. This perception of the inevitable politicisation of the judiciary because of the judicialisation of politics, against which this writer has been warning repeatedly for years, can now be added to the unenviable record of the judiciary of subservience to the establishment in our benighted history.

The railing of PDM leaders against Imran Khan’s ‘cowardly’ hiding from the police and not having the courage to face jail seems misplaced and without effect. Surely they should divert their attention to the seeming inability of the state to have its writ, and that of the judiciary, implemented through the police, which owes all citizens, particularly those who regularly suffer its brutal, unwanted attentions, an explanation for this farcical fiasco.

One is not passing judgement on the cases against Imran Khan. After all our laws and Constitution uphold the view of the innocence of the accused until proven guilty. But to get to any such end result, the judicial process has to be followed. If anyone, including a former prime minister, is allowed to get away with defying the law and the courts by refusing to appear before a judicial forum that permits him to prove his innocence, what remains of the rule of law or indeed, any rule at all? Are we then to accept the law of the jungle that lays down that the powerful are exempt from any and all accountability?

These farcical shenanigans that have been going on since Imran Khan was ousted by a no-confidence motion in 2022 indicate a deeper malaise. Amidst the welter of confusion and crises in the country, it would not be too far-fetched to argue that the state and its institutions are fraying, if not disintegrating. This may be the outcome of the latest ‘experiment’ of the establishment in foisting through a rigged election an egomaniac who holds: ‘My way or the highway’, i.e., either foist me in power again or I will bring the system to its knees. Unfortunately, the PDM coalition government does not seem to have any effective answer to such narcissism nor the more serious issue of state dysfunction.

Rashed Rahman, "Farcical shenanigans," Business recorder. 2023-03-07.
Keywords: Political sciences , Democratic movement , Superintendent police , Zaman Park , Imran Khan , Fawad Chaudhry , Shibli Faraz , Pakistan , PDM , PTI , SP , IHC

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