Sunday July 03, 2022

Uneasy days

By Editorial Board
May 25, 2022

Midnight raids at political leaders’ homes, containers and barricades back in the capital, a volley of press conferences – May 2022 is certainly giving some major 2014 vibes. The difference this time around though is that the coalition government has decided not to allow Imran Khan’s long march to Islamabad at all, citing concerns that the PTI is bent upon spreading chaos and disorder. In this, the government has pointed to the way a police constable was killed in Lahore during a raid on a political worker’s home. The first essential in all this is that there is nothing remotely democratic in the way the coalition government has set about responding to the PTI’s long march to Islamabad – which starts today and is being led by Imran Khan from Peshawar. Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are democratic rights enshrined in our constitution – and for a government that has come in on the claimed basis of a principled stand for democracy, this crackdown on opponents is not a good look. The Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA) has filed a petition against the government’s decision to block roads and raid houses of PTI members; the petition will be heard by the Supreme Court today. Even if the government’s fear of violence being encouraged by the PTI had some merit, nothing justifies blanket bans on protests, imposition of colonial-era laws like Section 144, and most of all arbitrary raids on political party workers’ homes. On Tuesday, both the Lahore and Islamabad high courts restricted the government from ‘unnecessarily’ harassing and arresting PTI workers and leaders.

Unfortunately, not much solace can be found in the statements coming from the PTI side either, with party leaders invoking imagery of a bloody long march. PTI chairman Imran Khan has likened the march to a jihad, asking the youth of the country to take part in this ‘war’ for their own future. Nothing about the next few days looks peaceful. From the 2014 dharna to the protests by the TLP, violence and rioting have remained a regular feature of our political culture this past decade. And the PTI has been consistently seeking to raise temperatures through its inflammatory rhetoric. The government’s actions may just have made things even worse. A glimpse of that could be seen during Imran’s press conference on Tuesday, where he warned ‘bureaucrats’ following government orders that each of their names will be ‘remembered’. The neutrals have as expected also been talked of; in one of his trademark U-turns, this time the PTI leader has said the ‘neutrals’ risk being judged if they continue to remain ‘neutral’. One wonders what stage of a democratic protest involves exhorting state officials to not follow their constitutional roles.

Apart from the hamfisted way it has acted, the government also looks as confused as before. Speaking to Geo, Khawaja Asif has admitted that the PML-N was considering dissolution of the National Assembly but dropped the idea after Imran’s march date announcement. Is the government essentially saying that it wanted to call early elections but will now not be blackmailed by Imran Khan? What sort of decision-making are we looking at here? And in this situation, how does a direct confrontation help the country at all? Not to forget that all this is going down as Finance Minister Miftah Ismail deals with the IMF. There is a vast difference between what should have been – economic stability – and what we got instead: a dithering, reluctant government that seems more interested in raiding homes than combating inflation, and a former ruling party on the rampage, ready to burn it all down if need be.