March 8, 2023
ISLAMABAD – THE events of the past two days suggest that the state has cracked open its old playbook to clamp down on Imran Khan. First, an Islamabad Police team was dispatched to Lahore on Sunday afternoon to arrest the PTI chief from his Zaman Park residence.
However, when a large number of charged PTI supporters gathered around their leader’s house and faced off with the arresting party, it turned back on mere ‘assurances’ that Mr Khan was “not available”. It now seems we may see yet another ugly stand-off between citizens and police when officers are once again dispatched to Mr Khan’s home to execute the warrant, which has been upheld by the sessions court despite Mr Khan’s plea to have it rescinded.
It defies understanding why the PTI chief has not simply appeared before the court to plead his case as he has in other instances. The concerns for his safety may be valid, but if he could ensure his appearance before the other courts, he ought to have done so in the Toshakhana case as well.
But while there can be no defence of Mr Khan’s failure to turn himself into the law, the authorities, too, should have exercised restraint. With the power of the law behind them, there was no need to create such high drama.
While tensions over Mr Khan’s arrest were still fresh, Pemra took the opportunity to reprise its role as the handmaiden of political censorship. For the third time in nearly seven months, it prohibited Mr Khan’s speeches and press talks from being aired on TV channels.
A similar restriction had previously been set aside by the Islamabad High Court on Sept 6, 2022, for violating fundamental rights. Another was quickly withdrawn by the PDM government in November for ‘being against democratic norms’.
The latest ban has been challenged in the Lahore High Court, and it is hoped it will be dealt with quickly. Pemra has a history of silencing political leaders. Similar bans were placed on Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain after they were declared persona non grata by the establishment. It seems plans are now afoot to push Mr Khan away from the public eye using similar tactics.
As cases continued to be registered against Mr Khan on Monday and NAB was also activated to start proceedings on a corruption allegation, it was difficult to ignore the impression that the establishment and the government do not know how to ‘deal’ with Mr Khan without resorting to crude tactics. But the state would be wise not to overreact under pressure to cut the PTI chief to size.
With an election around the corner, targeting a major leader will only spark more instability and friction within the citizenry, something the country can ill afford at this juncture.
Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2023