EDITORIAL: The area around the Lahore residence of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) Chairman Imran Khan looked like a war zone on two consecutive days, Tuesday and Wednesday, when the police backed by Rangers tried to arrest him under warrants issued by an Islamabad sessions court.
Pitched battles ensued as the police used water cannons and tear gas, even live fire into the air, to disperse the multitude of charged PTI activists who responded with stones and lobbing of petrol bombs on water cannons carrying vehicles, forcing the police to retreat.
Whilst hordes of his supporters kept turning up, despite road blocks on all routes leading to the scene of action, in several interviews with foreign media Khan said he was prepared to go to prison, but that his likely arrest was part of a plan to assassinate him.
Mercifully, no life was lost before the Lahore High Court hearing a petition filed by a PTI leader, ordered an end to this dangerous confrontation, and summoned the Punjab police chief and the chief secretary for the next morning to settle the issue with the PTI.
It is unfortunate, indeed, that things should have come to such an ugly pass. All this could be avoided had Khan finally decided to appear before the court after quite a few no-shows. The short respite his legal team won him from the Islamabad High Court ran out on Monday.
However, the former prime minister seems to have a genuine grievance when he points to as many as 82 cases registered against him all across the country that include (terrorism for an incident where he was not present) sedition, disrespect for religion, contempt of court, and conspiracy to murder an insignificant PML-N leader.
Following the sordid episode at his residence he has been booked in three more cases. Rightly or wrongly he thinks all this is being done with mala fide intentions to keep him out of political contention either through disqualification or physical elimination. Nevertheless, he says he respects the courts, and is ready to cooperate.
The heavy-handed treatment meted out to Imran Khan and his party men amplifies political instability, and in turn exacerbates the present economic crisis.
It also projects a bad image of Pakistan in other countries where the violent standoff between the PTI workers and the law enforcement agencies has been noted with a lot of interest or concern, depending on who is looking at it.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has tried to distance himself from the legal troubles of Khan, saying his government had nothing to do with the court cases. But his niece and the party’s fire-spewing leader, Maryam Nawaz, does not help matters when she insists on equating Khan’s problems with her father Nawaz Sharif’s, and calls for creating a ‘balance’ before the elections.
In the greater interest of the country and its people all sides need to take a deep breath and step back from the collision course.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023