Sunday May 19, 2024

Another day of infamy

By Ghazi Salahuddin
May 12, 2024
Police fire teargas shell towards Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party activists and supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan to disperse them during a protest against in Peshawar on May 9, 2023. — AFP
Police fire teargas shell towards Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party activists and supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan to disperse them during a protest against in Peshawar on May 9, 2023. — AFP

While the advent of May 9, the first anniversary of attacks on some military installations after Imran Khan was taken into custody, had certainly prompted dark apprehensions about its political fallout, the day itself turned out to be more explosive than the pundits had foreseen. And this is bound to be ominous in the context of the bad blood that exists between the PTI and the security establishment.

Even a cursory look at what transpired this May 9 – Thursday – would suggest that the stage is being set for stringent moves against the PTI and its leadership. The rising political temperature could soon reach boiling point. Or is the sound and fury that we have witnessed just an observance of the first anniversary of another day of infamy in our history?

The present rulers seem intent on action. The tempo is carefully being built. Watching news channels on Thursday, one felt overawed by the message that was delivered repetitiously. A range of activities had been planned, including a special meeting of the federal cabinet and an event in Islamabad that was addressed by the prime minister and was dedicated to the martyrs. The slogan for the day was: “May 9, never again”.

Eventually, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif classified the May 9 riots of last year as a “rebellion” against the state and also against the army and its chief. He said that the protests were aimed at ending democracy and establishing a dictatorship.

On his part, COAS Gen Asim Munir made a visit to the Lahore Garrison, laid a wreath at the Martyrs’ Monument, and addressed officers and soldiers at the Corps Headquarters. According to an ISPR press release, he said there could be “no compromise or deal with the planners and architects of this dark chapter in our history”. One knows where the finger was being pointed.

Gen Asim Munir added that the real leaders behind this “criminal enterprise” who present themselves as victims now will be held accountable for their actions, particularly when there is “irrefutable evidence of their involvement and complicity in organized violence and sabotage”.

Actually, the tempo picked up somewhat unexpectedly when ISPR Director General Maj-Gen Ahmad Sharif addressed a lengthy press conference in Rawalpindi on Tuesday. The military spokesperson, in a rather combative stance, said that “if we have to maintain trust in the justice system of Pakistan, then May 9 perpetrators and those who were commanding them must be sentenced according to the Constitution and the law”.

What made headlines was his response to a question about the possibility of dialogue with the PTI. This is what the ISPR chief was reported to have said: “There is only one way back for such political anarchists that it (PTI) asks for an earnest apology in front of the nation and promises that it will forgo politics of hate and adopt constructive [ style of ] politics”.

The next day, speaking to the media after the court proceedings in Adiala Jail, Imran Khan refused to apologize for the May 9 riots. He said that he wanted a dialogue with the establishment for the sake of Pakistan and added that if the establishment was not interested in a dialogue, the PTI would not pursue it either.

Overall, the PTI has maintained its defiant posture. It called for demonstrations across the country to mark the first anniversary of May 9, though it failed to draw out large crowds. PTI activists had encounters with the police in many places.

Does this mean that there is no way out of this antagonistic confrontation between the PTI and the powers that be? Is there also no scope for Imran Khan to enter into any kind of negotiations with the other major political parties? So, what can be the unintended consequences of possible action in cases that relate to May 9, as statements made on Thursday clearly foretell?

In any case, a nail-biting suspense is building up and hope for the attainment of political stability in the near future is dying out. At the same time, mystification about how the May 9 concerns will play out is intensifying. A lot may depend on how the superior judiciary resolves the impending constitutional and legal tangles, including that of the legitimacy of military courts.

Pakistan has a very poor record of coming to terms with the many tragedies it has suffered. May 9, for that matter, has been added to the list of days that, in a sense, constitute a wound that does not heal. We do not seem to have the capacity to exorcise the demons that have obstructed our pursuit of peace and social harmony.

A year is a long time for a crisis to fester in times that demand urgent resolutions of national predicaments. Will the second anniversary of May 9 still make headlines, with some loose ends that are not tied up? Or is closure possible, depriving May 9 of any historical reference?

This may not be entirely relevant but I feel a bit distracted by how May 9 is a date in history in other countries. A massive military parade was held in Moscow on Thursday to commemorate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. However, I happened to see a statement made on May 9 by the Italian prime minister that expresses sentiments akin to what was said in Pakistan.

“Today is a date that has marked the memory and conscience of our nation”, said Giorgia Meloni. She was referring to the Memorial Day celebrated in Italy on May 9. It is dedicated to the victims of terrorism and massacres. It was on May 9, 1978, when the body of Italian statesman Aldo Moro was found in the trunk of a car in Rome and on the same day, the mafia in Sicily had killed a young social activist.

These murders had shaken Italian society. In 2007, the Italian parliament established May 9 as Memorial Day. How will we remember our May 9, 2023?

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: