Tuesday July 23, 2024

Battleground Zaman Park

By Raoof Hasan
March 17, 2023

By all intentions and purposes, Pakistan is being pushed into the realm of violence, anarchy and chaos. Battleground Zaman Park is an apt manifestation of that eventuality.

It is a sad and sordid situation. When the state becomes partisan with the express purpose of eliminating a leader whom it has failed to contain politically, it begins regressing into a fascist mould which then becomes impossible to cast off. Pakistan is frantically traversing such a path which would unleash horrific possibilities of bringing destruction upon itself. It is a moment to ponder the prospects before pushing any further.

In a country that has been mostly governed either by direct military takeovers or through proxies, the concept of a genuine democratic polity is almost alien as rule by individual diktat becomes a norm. After a series of military dictatorships, separated by unstable and corrupt civilian interregnums, these last fifteen years have brought forth the true colours of many who claimed to be champions of democracy.

On the one hand, this time was marked by irretrievably corrupt and complicit regimes, and, on the other hand, it also witnessed the advent of Imran Khan who brought to the fore a resolve to run a clean and transparent administration. His agenda also included holding past rulers to account for the corruption they indulged in during their years in power. This last issue put him on a collision course with the powerful mafias and cartels which were traditionally patronised by the same political elite.

Starting with not accepting his government on the plea that he had been facilitated by the military to launch periodic agitations, these mafias, their patrons and masters did everything to frustrate his ambition of cleansing the government and state institutions of their hereditary indulgence in corrupt practices. The accountability process that he initiated was also stalled in the courts of law owing to interference from quarters which considered themselves more powerful than the state itself. The battle was raging from early on during Khan’s stint in power and circumstances and rabid intentions of his opponents ensured that it would intensify with the passage of time.

Owing to internal and external factors which joined hands in the cause of limiting Pakistan’s links with China and stalling the much-delayed outreach to Russia, Khan’s government was systematically dismantled. The perpetrators thought that, once out of power, Khan would fade away politically and, like his predecessors, he would also struggle to win back their sympathies and support so that he could sneak his way back into power.

But they were in for a shock that they had not considered before hatching the conspiracy. Khan took on his opponents and launched a political struggle which has no parallel in the history of the country. He went to the people with his message of nurturing a genuinely independent Pakistan that could take decisions for its growth and progress with freedom, dignity, and self-respect. His popularity surged with millions attending countless rallies that he held within a short period of time.

His followers were a bunch of people who came charged with passion and resolve to help this dream, and their own, come true. The crowds kept increasing as did the fear of the illegitimate government that had been installed and of those who had fathered it. With a sequence of brisk and ingenious political moves, first by opting to resign from the National Assembly and later by dissolving his own governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to force early elections to secure a decisive people’s mandate, he put the motley rulers on the backfoot. Meanwhile, he was virtually winning every by-election that was held anywhere in the country.

Seeing his popularity grow with every passing day and fearing a bashing at the hustings, the ruling conglomerate started manoeuvring to bypass the constitution and not hold elections to the assemblies within the stipulated period of ninety days. But the courts intervened and ordered that the constitution would be followed irrespective of the government’s reservations and elections held within the requisite time.

Concurrently, having concluded that Khan could not be tackled politically, a plan was allegedly hatched to eliminate him physically. There was an assassination attempt when Khan was leading the long march towards Islamabad with bullets piercing his right leg. But the man that he is, he did not falter in his struggle, nor did the hundreds of thousands of his supporters who put their faith in his person as their saviour.

In the meanwhile, to ensure that he stayed away from political activities, the incumbents started registering fake cases against him. Presently the number stands at over eighty. The purpose of these cases was not just to arrest him, but to eliminate him physically by staging some security-related drama. For that, they had to first get hold of him.

That is why an operation was planned at his residence in Lahore at Zaman Park which was attacked by contingents of police. They resorted to using brutal state apparatus including firing indiscriminately on the crowd that had gathered to protect their leader, using expired tear gas shells, rubber and live bullets, water cannon, and just about every fascist tactic they could think of to force their way into the residence to arrest Khan.

Zaman Park was turned into a battleground. It was brutal state power against the passion of Khan supporters equipped with home-made contrivances. The entire might of the state could not dent the passion of his supporters in frustrating them from getting hold of him. The battle raged on for over twenty-four hours with fresh law-enforcement contingents constantly reinforcing the attackers to charge into the house, but they were not able to subdue the resolve of those for whom Khan’s arrest is a redline they will not let anyone cross.

The temporary government retreat came on the orders of the Lahore High Court (LHC) pending adjudication of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) which has since sent the bail application back to the sessions judge for consideration. Meanwhile, Khan’s supporters remain on the scene reiterating their vow to stop the fascist onslaught irrespective of the consequences.

There was no need to bring political confrontation to this pass where the state is pitted against its own people. But the criminal conglomerate fears that Khan’s comeback through elections would mean their political obliteration. This is a script they are desperate to change and, in doing so, they are banking on the barbaric state apparatus to deliver their man.

I fear that Battleground Zaman Park will soon be reignited with considerably more state power on naked display, thus expediting Pakistan’s plunge into anarchy. Sanity does not remain a relevant instrument under such bitterly fractious circumstances.

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