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Unending political conflict

Imran Khan has claimed that unknown assassins were positioned at the Judicial Complex Islamabad on March 18, 2023 when he had to appear (finally) in court in the Toshakhana case against him. Further, he claims the government wanted either to kill him or spirit him away under arrest to Balochistan to sabotage his campaign for the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial elections. These circumstances were cited as justification by Imran Khan for not leaving his vehicle at the Judicial Complex and marking his presence while sitting in his car. Inexplicably, after all the hoop la by the court (and other courts) about Imran Khan’s refusal on one excuse or the other not to appear, the court ‘magnanimously’ accepted this procedure as constituting ‘appearance’ before the court and postponed his second appearance to a later date. Although there was a veritable battle going on at the Judicial Complex between the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) workers and the police, the court’s magnanimity was at a piece with the kid glove treatment received by Imran Khan from the courts since his ouster last year.

The Punjab police utilised the tactical opportunity provided by Imran Khan’s absence in Islamabad along with the bulk of his militant party supporters to conduct a determined raid on Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence, which the PTI workers had rendered a ‘no go zone’ since Imran moved there to recuperate from his bullet injuries sustained in Wazirabad. Using heavy machinery and sufficient force, the police broke down the gate of the residence, tore through the resistance of the PTI workers, and entered the house. Such resistance, as has become the norm, was conducted with the help of sticks, stones, sling shots, petrol bombs, etc. There were injuries in both sides, after which the police arrested dozens of PTI workers. The police claimed to have found arms, etc., in the house, which has attracted with greater force the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Imran Khan in his address a day after launched his usual diatribe against the police, caretaker chief minister, etc., and plaintively alluded to his wife’s presence alone, along with some household staff, when the raid occurred. In the meantime, two more terrorism cases, one for the Lahore happenings, the other for Islamabad, were registered against Imran Khan, various PTI leaders and workers. He says there are now 99 cases in all against him. Welcome to the standard operating procedure of Pakistani governments against their opponents!

The irreducible facts may help to somewhat clear the confusion created by the unending war of words (and some weapons) between the PTI and the government. Stripped of all the rhetoric, Imran Khan and the PTI have been using militant tactics and whatever weapons they could muster to resist the police, courts, and the state’s writ at every turn. Until the Zaman Park clearance operation, neither the police nor the courts had used the full panoply of their powers to bring this mini-rebellion to heel. In Pakistan’s past, people have been hung to dry for far less. But Imran Khan appears to live a charmed life. While PTI workers’ injuries are certainly regrettable, the injuries inflicted on the police and the destruction of their vehicles, etc., beggars belief. Clearly, the police was not so far confident of going all out and using sufficient force against the PTI. It appears the Zaman Park operation may well herald a change of approach. That may be another reason why Imran Khan has now savaged the caretaker chief minister, Mohsin Naqvi.

At the risk of irritating readers with a reiteration of the events since April 2022 that have brought us to the present pass of unending political (and physical) conflict, it bears remembering the sequence of events. Imran Khan’s spectacular falling out with his mentors, supporters and facilitators to bring him to power in 2018 (i.e. the military establishment) triggered a sequence of events that culminated with his ouster from power through a no-confidence motion lubricated by defections from the PTI. This stratagem was advocated by Asif Ali Zardari to get rid of the noose of corruption cases against him and by Shahbaz Sharif who saw his perhaps only chance to become prime minister in his brother’s absence. Nawaz Sharif was against this course. His advice was to leave a weakened Imran Khan in power so that he would further fall flat on his face and pave the way for the opposition to win the next election this year hands down. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition has sacrificed its credibility and political capital (perhaps irretrievably) by ignoring Nawaz Sharif’s advice. Given that the PDM coalition government is losing (if it has not already lost) the battle of narratives to the PTI, has been unable to turn around the parlous state of the economy bequeathed by the PTI government (not the least because of the games being played by the IMF), and now stands virtually bereft and visionless if not helpless against the unremitting daily attacks of the PTI, it does not take a genius to work out whose initial advice was right.

One band of opinion pins its hopes again and again in some ‘magic’ to be worked by a ‘national dialogue’. They persist in this endeavour in the face of even the faintest hope not being available that such a dialogue is possible under the obtaining circumstances. Another band (led by the PTI, understandably) pins all hope for the future and solution to all our problems on elections. Logically, this makes little sense either, since the unrelenting political conflict between the two factions into which our ruling elite is now firmly divided makes any post-election scenario equally fraught. If the PDM wins comfortably (despite the perceived present trend), it will seek to complete its agenda of ‘eliminating’ Imran from the political field. If the PTI wins, Imran Khan has promised again and again not to spare his opponents. In either case, the country is more likely post-elections to see a continuation of the present strife rather than a cooling down of tempers, return to minimum consensual parliamentary politics, and all sides respecting the objective needs of the country above their own interests.

It may not quite be the civil war Federal Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb warned against the other day, but it damn well seems to be teetering on the edge, with no credible alternative in sight.

Rashed Rahman, "Unending political conflict," Business recorder. 2023-03-21.
Keywords: Political science , Imran Khan , Marriyum Aurangzeb , Zaman Park , Toshakhana , Balochistan , Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , PTI , PDM

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