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Saturday June 22, 2024

A protest gone wrong

By Javed Malik
May 24, 2023

In Pakistan's tumultuous democratic history, many popular prime ministers have faced arrests, trials and even exile, which often sparked protests, as part of the democratic process. However, the recent violence that was unleashed following Imran Khan's arrest on May 9 cannot be described as a peaceful protest by any stretch of the imagination.

What was unleashed on May 9 was not a protest. Instead, it carried all the hallmarks of a meticulously orchestrated assault on Pakistan and its valiant armed forces, leaving the nation in a state of shock and disbelief. Within minutes, videos of these nefarious attacks on our national institutions spread globally on social media, tarnishing Pakistan's image and providing another reason for our adversaries to rejoice. Not only has this damaged Pakistan's reputation, it has also exposed the existence of sinister elements within our political landscape, hiding behind a political facade to carry out malevolent attacks against our nation.

The statement by the Pakistan Army echoed the sentiments of every Pakistan when it said "What the external enemy of the country could not do for seventy-five years, this group, wearing a political cloak, in their lust for power, has done,"

It is true that every Pakistani wants to see a truly democratic Pakistan in line with the vision of our founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, where the right to govern and rule rests exclusively with elected representatives. No one in Pakistan wants to see military interference in political affairs. However, no Pakistani would ever tolerate an attack on our armed forces or the symbols of our federation, such as Jinnah House. We take immense pride in our army, which defends our country's geographical and ideological frontiers. Consequently, Pakistanis and people worldwide strongly condemned the violence unleashed by those seeking to harm our nation.

While Mr Imran Khan now distances himself from these attacks, claiming ignorance due to his custody, impartial political observers challenge these assertions and raise pertinent questions. Was it not Mr Khan who consistently made animated speeches, levelling baseless allegations against senior army officers and even their chiefs? Did he not float conspiracy theories about his removal from office, building a persistent narrative against the establishment?

Many observers argue that Mr Khan's callous campaign against state institutions has contributed to radicalizing his followers. Perhaps Mr Khan fails to realize that his strategy has not only undermined his democratic credentials, but his party is now starting to resemble a fan club for radicalized zealots rather than a democratic political party.

The people of Pakistan have endured enough of the divisive politics that has plagued our country for the last few years. This polarization must come to an end. Pakistan requires leaders who can think and act as statesmen, rising above party affiliations in the greater national interest. If we genuinely desire stability for Pakistan, we must prioritize the country over our political party. The blame games that have persisted for the past few years must come to an end as they are eroding our sense of nationalism.

All responsible stakeholders, whether political or non-political, must redirect their focus towards addressing the real issues that confront Pakistan on the economic, security, political, and strategic fronts. Unless we tackle these real challenges, we will continue on an aimless journey towards further instability.

Pakistan needs to heal. Today, more than ever, we require a spirit of ‘national reconciliation’ that fosters an honest and transparent dialogue among all national stakeholders. This dialogue should enable us to assess our past mistakes and make a commitment to rectify them. This is the only way we can devise a roadmap that meaningfully addresses the challenges that have continued to prevent Pakistan from achieving its true potential and rightful glory.

Pakistan has the capacity to emerge as a democratic and progressive welfare state built on principles of equality, justice, and freedom based on a harmonious balance between the executive, legislature, and judiciary, with each complementing the other without encroaching upon their respective domains. As citizens, politicians, lawyers, judges, army officers, bureaucrats, civil society members, and the media, we all have a duty to work towards these ideals, in line with the vision of our founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The writer is a former ambassador and noted media person. He tweets @JavedMalik