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Saturday June 22, 2024

Inconvenient truths

By Aasiya Riaz
May 26, 2023

Piecing together an accurate picture of reality is a demanding exercise, both in terms of hard work and in keeping with rigours required for objectivity.

The pursuit of truth, unadulterated by any shades of conscious or unconscious bias, while necessary and noble, is often cast aside by many for whom relying on truth can be an inconvenient option. Perceptions, cocooned by conspiracy-theories, half-baked ideas and blatant lies uttered with perfection over and over again, reign supreme and truth is derided. After all, why allow a small thing as the truth to get in the way of forming an opinion?

As a country, we have reached a state where reliance on perceptions, and a dogged avoidance of the pursuit of truth, is threatening everything. It is threatening the very principle that governs the fundamental right of freedom of association whereby citizens-led political parties engage with citizens to be elected to govern. It is threatening obedience to the constitution and the law which is an inviolable obligation of every citizen. It is not just threatening the security of person, life and liberty but also the dignity of every citizen and privacy of their homes.

The painful events of hooliganism, violence, destruction, and at many places desecration of national monuments that were unleashed across the country on May 9 after the arrest of PTI Chairman Mr Imran Khan were rightly termed as a “dark chapter” in Pakistan’s history.

Pakistan is no stranger to public display of anger leading to damage to public life and property before. While we cannot always take pride as a country known only for civilized and peaceful public protests, we have witnessed successful non-violent movements and protests in the face of bigger national crises and tragedies. But never have we ever seen such gratuitous display of violence by orchestrated and organized mobs fuelled on a targeted hate propaganda. What has also left the entire country shocked and distressed in equal measure is the unrestrained way the mob inside otherwise fortified cantonments recognized as symbols of safety and security in Pakistan behaved.

Both the unleashing of this organized violence and the apparent inability to contain it in time have raised serious questions worthy of a thorough, independent and objective investigation. A befitting response bringing to justice all the perpetrators of this heinous event must be based on the constitution and rule of law and should be determined only after conducting an inquiry.

What transpired behind the manner of the arrest of Mr Imran Khan from the premises of the Islamabad High Court is a subject of another objective inquiry. The manner of the execution of the arrest order by the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau has already been declared by the Supreme Court as “invalid and unlawful.”

The Supreme Court order of May 11 has also highlighted the reasons of declaring it so by saying that the execution of NAB’s warrant from the premises of the Islamabad High Court “violated the petitioner’s right of access to justice and the sanctity and safety of the court as he had already surrendered to the court for seeking judicial relief against the action taken by NAB in the Al-Qadir Trust case,” declaring the manner of arrest as an infringement of Mr Khan’s ‘fundamental rights.’

What led to this ‘manner of arrest’ is another question that requires delving deeper into facts behind it. While the average citizen tries and finds a nexus into the volley of statements issued to and from Mr Khan and institutional spokespersons a day before, is it not the responsibility of the federal government to investigate the truth and present it before the citizens? After all, the arrest order was issued by NAB and initially the interior minister maintained that he had no knowledge of it and the law was taking its course. Why did the federal government change its tone after the production of Mr Khan into the Supreme Court on May 11? Political motivations aside, how is this position maintainable based on the facts stated earlier?

In this entire disaster – since confusion alone wouldn’t cover the depth of it – what were the considerations at play before the public posturing adopted by each side? The opportunity to ascertain the truth appears to have been tossed aside. Instead of facts, we are offered fiction. Instead of scrutiny, there is outrage. Instead of condemnation in earnest, there is false negativity and propaganda. On every side, there is a superimposition of a narrative.

The events of May 9 and their aftermath have intensified and reinforced the existing battle lines. The hope for continuation of a result-oriented political dialogue, that had been initiated on the nudging of the Supreme Court to find consensus on general election to the national and four provincial assemblies, has all but fizzled. Before May 9, Mr Khan refused to agree to an earlier negotiated date for a same day general election and provincial election. In the tense environment where his party leaders and workers are being rounded-up and put behind bars, would his party now even be asked to return to the dialogue table on the date of general election?

But is there any other valid choice except to hold a general election? A general election that is held on the same date for all assemblies. It can even be the date of October 8 if no political consensus is initiated or achieved for an earlier date? Why should the citizens be condemned to live with a bad or a worse choice that they are not even allowed to choose from?

Only the constitution of Pakistan provides the way forward in a time even as dark as this. It is a fact worth remembering for all -- even though the parties to the compounding crisis appear to be quite blasé about this. To ignore this would amount to being delusional in the continual.

The federal government, with all the political parties represented in its coalition, must realize the dangerous precedence they may set by ignoring the requirements of the constitution. No matter how hard it may appear to wrest their focus away from the intense game of survival at play, the duty of the federal government is to learn from the catastrophic blunders made already to find a strictly constitutional way out now.

The writer is an analyst working in the field of politics, democratic governance, legislative development and rule of law.