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EDITORIAL: If the government’s high-handed tactics to stop the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI’s) “Haqiqi Azadi March” achieved anything it is a further increase in political acrimony as the people watched on their television screens images of a brutal crackdown on PTI activists, the police entering residences to arrest its leaders, blocking of all routes out of Lahore and various other cities to Islamabad with shipping containers, and intense tear gas shelling on party workers and supporters everywhere — actions that resulted in the tragic death of five marchers and a policeman.

All this went on in blatant violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful protest. There was no justification whatsoever for any of such strong-arm control methods as long as the marchers remained peaceful. In acting the way it did the government ended up looking in an extreme state of nervousness.

Thankfully, amid rising political tensions the Supreme Court of Pakistan stepped in to save the situation. Taking up PTI’s petition against road blockades and raids on its leaders and activists’ homes, a three-member bench of the court, headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, ordered the government to remove all obstructions and release detainees, and to the PTI not to gather its marchers at the Srinagar Highway where Imran Khan had said he would meet people “from all walks of life”.

The party was also directed to stage its main protest event at H-9 ground — the same place where its government had allowed JUI-F to hold its rally against it — rather than the D-Chawk located in the capital’s ‘Red Zone’. Yet neither side fully complied with the court orders. In his brief remarks at Hasan Abdal, Imran reiterated that his supporters should gather at the D-Chowk, and stay there until a date for new elections is announced by the “imported government.”

Meanwhile, although the shipping containers blocking all access routes to Islamabad were removed, the police kept shelling not only the procession led by Imran but also on peaceful gatherings, including families with children, at the Numaish Chowrangi in Karachi and Liberty Chowk in Lahore.

Yet it thought it had a point to score against the other side as it approached the court to seek contempt of court proceedings against PTI leader for disrespecting its directions. Imran, though, had stopped at the 9th Avenue, where he delivered his final speech, announcing culmination of the ‘Azadi March’ because, as he put it, a confrontation between the people on the one end and the police and the army on the other could lead to anarchy. But he left not without giving the government six days to announce new elections date, failing which he would return with a massive gathering of people.

The PML-N leading the coalition government is not so averse to calling early elections. But it cannot afford to be seen caving in to its nemesis’ demand. As expected, it has brushed aside Imran’s ultimatum. Speaking in the National Assembly (NA) yesterday, prime minister Shehbaz Sharif said NA would decide when to hold elections, adding: “Your [PTI’s] dictation won’t work”.

However, hints from behind-the-scenes goings-on, however, suggest that something is in offing aimed at finding a face-saving solution for both sides. It is not difficult to figure out what that may be. If only two members of the National Assembly are asked to withdraw their support from the Prime Minister the government will fall necessitating calling of fresh elections. Hopefully, whatever happens after six days will strengthen the democratic system rather than weaken it.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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