A meltdown and the phoenix moment

By Raoof Hasan
May 26, 2023

The seemingly unending spate of arrests with credible information filtering out regarding pressure, even torture, being inflicted upon the detainees to quit the PTI in exchange for release, calls for the formation of a fully empowered judicial commission to investigate.

I say so because such should not be the ailments of a democratic society. If the constitution and all the guidelines that flow from it are rubbished with scorn and disdain, if the judiciary is abused and ridiculed, then it makes for a case of deep concern for the country, its people, its democracy, and its future. This requires urgent remedy through adoption of appropriate measures.


It appears that the wheel of reason is being driven in the reverse. Instead of beginning with details of an alleged crime and presenting it before the law to get a judgment, we are working it backward by finalizing the desired outcome and then filling in with bits of fake and fictitious evidence to secure a guilty verdict. There is a maniacal fixation on clinching the required outcome irrespective of whether the accused person is guilty of the crime, and whether there is actionable evidence available to proceed against him.

This is tantamount to using the butcher’s knife to cull justice and dictates of the law and instead use the power of elevated positions as instruments to neutralize and eliminate some political adversaries. While such draconian actions will generate fear among the people and push them into silence, temporarily though, these have not succeeded in achieving any sustainable results in the past and are not likely to this time either.

The PTI may have erred in formulating its narrative and Khan may have erred in his evaluations of multiple dynamics driving national politics rooted in decades, but boundless sincerity and irrevocable commitment to the cause of Pakistan were never the missing links. So, there was never any reason to unleash boundless terror of the state machinery upon him, his supporters and activists, arrest them, put them in jails, mistreat them, and refuse judicial interventions for their release. There are some who were re-arrested multiple times. The minute they would step out of prison, they would be taken into custody again.

Simultaneously, they were subjected to unrelenting pressure to disassociate from the PTI and implicate Khan as the mastermind of the May 9 happenings. There is not a sane person who would not condemn the onset of violence, but let’s not forget that, on that fateful day, Khan was in prison -- hardly in a position to play any role in what happened. I also fail to see the logic in arriving at a conclusion without first holding a comprehensive and transparent enquiry into the perpetration of violence and ascertaining the role of various people, not excluding alleged provocateurs. An unsubstantiated and patently one-sided appraisal in blaming a targeted person and dubbing him guilty of a crime that unfurled on May 9 shall not hold ground.

Politics in the country appears to be taking an untenable turn. It is an unfortunate happening. There is a need to arrest this dangerous penchant to force decisions by the dent of brute force rather than by weighing them on the benchmarks of justice and rule of law. Only a decision that passes the test of objectivity, supported by undeniable evidence, can sustain the pressure of time and the verdict of history.

The need for change is an undeniable reality. It has taken deep roots among a vast section of society, and they are unwilling to sacrifice it. The realization of this dream is directly linked with Khan and is reflected in his unprecedented popularity, particularly among the young of the country. Use of even the most brutal state apparatus is not likely to dent it. As a matter of fact, it may spur it further. This is Khan’s strength, and a legitimate strength, for which he can be genuinely proud.

Notwithstanding bloated egos on either side of the divide, I would call for using this strength for the betterment of the state and its people. That cannot be accomplished by targeting one or the other individual on one perceived basis or the other. It would require the coming together of divergent interests to deliberate and chisel out a mutually binding contract to take the country forward. The history of defiance of law and instruments of morality has cost us dearly. Let’s not plunge ourselves into a pit of debasement from where there will be no coming out -- no matter how brutally the state apparatus is used.

Simultaneously, the country cannot survive, much less prosper, under the unconstitutional tutorship of a bunch of convicts, absconders, and under-trial individuals. Their fate must be decided in strict conformity with the prevalent laws. A reprieve on account of one compulsion or the other would be a travesty that would be difficult to sustain in the long run.

For the PTI, it is time to ponder. Though born of genuine desire, it must reflect upon its strategy for achieving the coveted target of bringing about a fundamental change in the manner the state and its affairs have been handled through decades in the past. This strategy should not be driven by the prospect of a clash with state institutions, but a desire to work in collaboration with them to secure the desired results.

While one is deeply disturbed that some good people have left the party owing to unbearable pressure exerted on them and their families during their periods of detention, it could also be a cleansing moment for the party as it would dump the stigma it has carried in shape of lateral entrants, deceptively garbed as “electable” politicians. The party would regain its original flavour if such people were not accepted within its folds again.

At this juncture, the PTI remains the most formidable political force in the country and Khan the most popular and charismatic leader. They can neither be washed nor wished away. Despite the forced divorces and partial meltdown, this could turn out to be the PTI’s phoenix moment. This would be further facilitated by offloading the unwieldy burden of the ‘electable’ lot, inducting individuals bearing character, capability and capacity into advisory positions and espousing a pragmatic political course detached from a confrontational mould.

The apparent meltdown is not the end. The phoenix could rise again – a little chastened, but not deprived of extensive and passionate public support to trigger a foundational change that every Pakistani has yearned for.

The writer is a political and security strategist, former special assistant to former PM Imran Khan, and currently a fellow at King’s College London. He tweets RaoofHasan