Chaos in Lahore

By Editorial Board
March 16, 2023

For the past two days, depending on what side of the political circus one is standing on, the scenes at Zaman Park in lahore have been described as a battlezone, an example of state brutality, or proof that the PTI chairman is hiding behind his workers and instigating a small-scale civil war like situation. Naturally, every political side has picked its narrative and is sticking to it. However, again naturally, the PTI narrative is sticking far better than the government's. With the police having gone two consecutive days to Zaman Park to arrest PTI Chairman Imran Khan as per the orders of a sessions court in the Toshakhana case, and failing to do that both days, it may be tempting to declare this a win for Imran Khan. And as far as optics go, it may well be.


The visuals coming out of Zaman Park were stark: tear gas, baton charge on the one side and pelted stones and allegedly even petrol bombs on the other. Several policemen are reported to have been injured while the PTI claims their workers have also had to face a severe crackdown by the police. At the heart of all this is a legal matter: the PTI chairman was supposed to appear before a trial court in the Toshakhana case but had failed to do so several times, leading to the court issuing non-bailable arrest warrants for him. The police say they are merely following the court orders and trying to get Imran Khan to court. On Wednesday, right in the midst of the clash at Zaman Park, the Lahore High Court issued an order asking that the police suspend its operation till today. Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court also issued an order asking the PTI to move the trial court and provide the lower court with an undertaking that Imran will present himself on a specific date. Legal observers have pointed out that this means his arrest warrants in the Toshakhana case are still valid. The IHC's comment in the order that “the phrase ‘rule of law’ is not a rhetoric and has different connotations, including obedience to law and any defiance thereof naturally has consequences because law of the land has to and should prevail at all costs” may lend to the argument that Imran has essentially been defying court orders, the consequences of which have been chaos and anarchy. Yesterday, PTI lawyers gave the IHC a guarantee that Imran will appear before the court on March 18. But one wonders what these guarantees mean to someone who has previously too given such a guarantee but then failed to act on it. What happens if he disobeys again? Are we in for a back and forth of police reaching Zaman Park, and the PTI and its workers refusing to budge?

In all this, the most unfortunate scenes have unfolded live on TV: a party head refusing to adhere to what seems to be a rather basic court order; state law enforcement seen being pelted with stones; workers battling it out amidst tear gas -- complete chaos. Political observers have been quick to point out that perhaps this is the level of chaos that the PTI would like at the moment. But this has also not gone unnoticed by the international media and human rights organizations which have decried what they see is state suppression of protest. Forgotten in this is the fact that non-bailable arrest warrants were issued by the court after Imran had not appeared before the court despite being asked to several times. It was only after he had made his disappearing act a regular practice that his arrest warrants were issued.

Political analysts say it seems Imran is reluctant to appear before the sessions court because he may be indicted in the Toshakhana case. While that may be so, and even if the PTI disagrees with the court orders, it cannot effectively disobey them as that is a violation of the law. If this were to continue, how long will law enforcement keep its arrive-leave-arrive routine at Zaman Park? And how long before such clashes take on an even uglier colour? Some sanity has to prevail. Violence – whether state-led or political party instigated – is not the way to resolve this issue. Perhaps it's time for the PTI leader to go to court in grace and fight legal battles where they belong, not the streets but in front of a justice of law.