May 9 Black Day: shock-and-awe response

Both the civilian and military establishments appear remarkably on the same page!

Imtiaz Gul May 20, 2023
The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is the author of ‘Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate’


The shock-and-awe response to the violence on May 9 — the Black Day — continues. The press release after the 15 May Special Corps Commanders Conference (CCC) held at GHQ carried a stern warning to “miscreants”: “The Forum expressed firm resolve that those involved in these heinous crimes against the military installations and personal/equipment will be brought to justice through trials under relevant laws of Pakistan including Pakistan Army Act and Official Secret Act.”

Strangely, without due process of investigation, the CCC also made a big claim. “Based on the irrefutable evidence collected so far, Armed Forces are well aware of the planners, instigators, abettors and perpetrators of these attacks and attempts to create distortions in this regard are absolutely futile,” read the press release, indicating thereby that it had already identified all the “planners, instigators, abettors and perpetrators”.

This was the day when Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his men were thundering in front of the Supreme Court and hurling all sorts of abuses on the Chief Justice and like-minded judges.

The National Security Committee (NSC) meeting on May 16 came down equally hard on “the planners, instigators, abettors and perpetrators”. The press statement issued thereafter quoted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as saying that “those who planned, executed and abetted the vandalism on May 9 certainly committed an act of terrorism”, and promising to bring them all to justice.

Both the civilian and military establishments appear remarkably on the same page!

And, “coincidentally” the same day (May 16), the National Assembly unanimously consented to the unique “Contempt of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) Bill, 2023” making it the latest firewall that the ruling elites erected to insulate themselves against criticism and ridicule. It criminalises actions/words against the parliament or its members with up to six months’ imprisonment and Rs1 million fine for actions that amount to “breach of the sovereignty and integrity of the legislature in any form or shade”.

Under the proposed legislation, a 24-member Parliamentary Contempt Committee with equal representation of the opposition and government will have the power to summon any state or government official for contempt of Parliament. Once passed, the NA speaker and chairman Senate will determine the punishment of the concerned person as per the recommendations.

This way the parliament has thus assumed the role of the judiciary as much as the Armed Forces exercise the Army Act etc to punish those found at variance with their code of conduct and rules of service.

Coming back to the Black Day, the assertion by the Corps Commanders forum and the NSC — that the planners, instigators, abettors and perpetrators of these attacks are well known — has already created a fog of doubts on the due judicial process. Doubts are likely to accompany any outcomes that will flow from the process — arrests, interrogation, confessional statements, trials and convictions.

Given the pliant and corrupt nature of the Punjab police, in particular, would any person with a critical mind really trust the work of this institution in as critical a matter as is the May 9?

As pointed out by Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, numerous questions warrant answers by the military officials themselves to remove suspicion that the May 9 mayhem was partly orchestrated in an attempt to pit army against the embroiled PTI, and thus pave the way for a new confrontation.

Lastly, laws, regulations and emotive sloganeering don’t evoke respect and patriotism; respect is earned not commanded. Patriotism flows from a sense of belonging and inclusion. It cannot be drilled into citizens’ minds, more so those who feel socio-politically dis-enfrenchised. You can program these values into robots but not human beings.

Veteran journalist Mujeebur Rehman Shami has also warned against criminalising political issues. “You may continue disagreeing with one another but please don’t take issues such as trial under Army Act lightly,” he advised the leadership in his TV show.

We need a long-term strategy for peaceful political management and not intimidatory regulation. The discontent in Balochistan is a testimony to the futility of this approach.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2023.

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