May 22, 2023
ISLAMABAD – A STRANGE game is playing out in Lahore. Punjab’s caretaker Information Minister Amir Mir has spent days proclaiming the presence of dozens of ‘terrorists’ inside PTI chairman Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence.
A government delegation entered Zaman Park yesterday, but reportedly only to discuss the terms of a search operation. It left without making a breakthrough. The PTI has been expecting foul play ever since Mr Khan was on Wednesday issued a 24-hour ultimatum to hand over individuals suspected of involvement in the May 9 violence.
The government is hunting for Mr Khan’s nephew, as well as several senior PTI leaders, and believes they are among other wanted men taking refuge at the property.
The PTI has roundly rejected the allegation, saying it fears that any ‘terrorists’ ever ‘recovered’ from Zaman Park will, in fact, have been ‘planted’ there during the police’s search operation.
Mr Khan himself has taken to various platforms to reject the allegation that he is harbouring any fugitives in his home. The party even opened up Zaman Park to local and international media this week as a pre-emptive measure, inviting neutral observers to make an independent assessment of the claims being made by the caretaker Punjab government.
Given how ‘normalised’ state excesses have become, it was reassuring to see that the Friday negotiation at least was conducted civilly. A deadlock still remains on how many policemen are to conduct the search, but it is hoped that the matter will be handled with wisdom and restraint. The presence of dozens of media persons at Zaman Park seems to have played a role in keeping a lid on the situation so far.
Abandoned and besieged by powerful quarters, Mr Khan now seems to be seeking the protection of the fourth estate. The cameras that followed the government delegation yesterday were a reminder of the power the press still holds when called on to check authority. The Punjab caretaker set-up must be asked what it is basing its claims on. Could they have been misguided?
Can the miscreants allegedly hiding in Zaman Park even present such a grave threat that hundreds of policemen will be needed to subdue them? One hopes that this isn’t just another provocation by a vengeful state. The targeting of PTI workers and sympathisers has turned into a rather ugly witch-hunt. It should stop somewhere.