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Twists and turns

The gun attack on Imran Khan’s container during the Long March in Wazirabad evoked condemnation across the political divide as well as by all right thinking people in the country. Pakistan has been witness to assassinations of political leaders from 1951 (Liaquat Ali Khan) to 2007 (Benazir Bhutto). The truth behind these assassinations is still not known. By their very nature, such ‘enterprises’ are shrouded in layers and layers of obfuscation. In the present circumstances, one can only thank God that Imran Khan was only wounded, along with other Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders on his container truck, although one worker paid with his life.

But this ‘consensus’ did not last long. For one, Imran Khan came out guns blazing against Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and Major General Faisal Naseer, the last named currently reportedly seconded to the ISI. Not surprisingly, Imran Khan’s accusing the three without any investigation or proof immediately soured the short-lived across the board condemnation of the attack. Things rapidly reverted to conflict mode, with both sides of the political divide once again going hammer and tongs at each other, an unfortunate phenomenon introduced into our politics by none other than Imran Khan and the PTI.

Before things reverted to the familiar, and by now sickening, diatribes against each other by both sides, the government and the opposition, PM Shehbaz Sharif had suggested writing to the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) to set up a full court judicial commission to probe the attack on Imran Khan. The latter too endorsed the suggestion but with the proviso that the three accused named by him resign before a credible investigation can be mounted. That of course is unlikely to happen. Reports suggest CJP Umar Atta Bandial is deliberating on the matter with his brother Supreme Court (SC) judges. However, obstacles in the path of a full court commission include the workload of the apex court, which may not afford the diversion of the entire court’s time and attention to one, albeit important, matter. Other paths to approach the SC, as well as suo motu jurisdictions do exist, however. The idea behind the PM’s suggestion was meant to take the wind out of the PTI’s ferocious accusation sails by reference to the highest judicial forum, whose word, irrespective of past controversial decisions in our history, still commands respect and obedience, if not always concurrence.

The military’s ISPR has bristled at the naming of a senior military officer amongst the names being touted by Imran Khan. It has asked the government to take appropriate action against the accuser/s for defaming the institution by such tactics. So far at least, it is not clear how the government intends to proceed in this matter.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan has announced soon after being discharged from hospital and retiring to his Zaman Park residence in Lahore that the PTI’s Long March will recommence from the exact same point where it was attacked in Wazirabad, led by Senior Vice President Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The march is expected to reach Rawalpindi in about two weeks, from where Imran Khan is scheduled to lead it into Islamabad, hopefully by then having recovered from his injuries. The Islamabad police was a tad too quick in declaring one day that the extra police forces it had deployed from Sindh, etc., were no longer needed (implying the long march may be delayed or even peter out), only to reverse itself the very next day in anticipation now of the march being resumed. Neither the Islamabad administration nor the judiciary has as yet allowed the PTI to hold a rally/sit-in anywhere in the capital, pending perhaps the outcome of the tussle in the SC regarding the May 25, 2022 PTI ‘offensive’ against Islamabad, which potentially could attract contempt of court.

One very interesting aspect of the episode is the video ‘confession’ of the attack perpetrator, which was leaked and led to the suspension of the entire police station in question. He appeared disconcertingly calm, without a crease on his brow as he confessed to a ‘lone wolf’ attack on religious grounds. The whole show lacked credibility and added further layers of mystery and unanswered questions surrounding the whole episode. Inevitably, such lack of clarity and even confusion added its own conspiracy theories to further thicken the thicket of unknowns around the author/s of the attack and his/their real motivation.

Well meaning commentators have been bleating for seeking middle ground for a peaceful solution of the dangerous collision course the country seems embarked upon, but all their well reasoned pleas have gone abegging so far. On the contrary, Imran Khan and the PTI’s unrelenting attacks on political opponents and the military establishment are indicative of the ‘system’, such as it is, imploding into an ugly, perhaps violent path whose end outcome is extremely unpredictable. None of the possible scenarios post-collision promise a good result. The political rules of engagement of a parliamentary democracy have been shredded by Imran Khan and the PTI. He seems bent upon what he has described as a ‘revolution’, either through the ballot box (early elections, which he seems confident he will win) or through bloodshed. However, if the protests mounted by the PTI after Imran Khan was attacked are any indicator, the PTI badly lacks the political organisation or even theoretical understanding of what a revolution is really about. It is a total change after the overthrow of the existing order, not a reinstatement by a military establishment that is by now embarrassed at having brought Imran Khan to power in the first place, and seemingly at a loss to counter his rhetorical and unprecedented assault on it, perhaps, it is being suggested, because Imran Khan enjoys some support within the institution.

Rashed Rahman, "Twists and turns," Business recorder. 2022-11-08.
Keywords: Political sciences , Political divide , Gun attack , Long march , Imran Khan , Benazir Bhutto , Liaquat Ali Khan , Faisal Naseer , Shehbaz Sharif , PTI , ISI , CJP

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