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9th May inferno: A 360° view

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
The recent unprecedented press conference held by the DG, ISPR two days ago has set the tone and agenda for commemorating the first anniversary of the May 9 inferno. This has prompted both federal and provincial governments, along with their respective departments, to launch comprehensive paid advertisement campaigns across all forms of media. Additionally, they have organized high-value events, rallies, walks, talks, and candlelight vigils, utilizing various public relations and media management tools to ensure extensive coverage aimed at conveying the message that the incident of May 9 “will not be forgiven or forgotten.” knowing that it would dash all hopes of dialogue between the government and the PTI, as well as between the PTI and the establishment.

The incident on 9th May, as described by former President Dr. Alvi during one of his media interactions almost a year ago, was abhorrent and condemnable. He emphasized that those found involved must be subjected to due process of law in a fair, transparent, and judicious manner, based on concrete evidence and under a judicial dispensation characterized by fairness and transparency. He reiterated his stand yet again in one of his recent media interactions.

Interestingly, all parties involved in the incident, including the alleged victims (the army), the alleged aggressors (the PTI), and all bystanders (the governments, opposition parties, intelligence agencies, and civil society), have equally condemned the events of 9th May.

However, they diverge on various aspects, including the motives behind the incident, the characters instigating, fomenting, and turning apparently a peaceful rally into an alleged act of violence, the nature of evidences, interpretations of speeches made during the heat of the moment, as well as visual and graphic recordings of the incident.

They also differ on the methods and procedures for adjudicating the incident. One perspective asserts that the planners, abettors, and facilitators are already known with concrete evidence, therefore, there is no need for further investigation or the establishment of a commission. On the other hand, another perspective suggests that the May 9th incident was masterminded by the sitting government to tarnish the reputation of the PTI and provide a pretext to incarcerate its leaders, dismantle the PTI, and undermine its public support.

The constitution and laws of Pakistan unequivocally forbid any attack, violence, subversion or destruction directed at military installations, and prescribe severe punishments for those involved in planning, abetting, or carrying out such actions. Section 121 of the Pakistan Penal Code empowers the state to apprehend and punish individuals who wage war, attempt to wage war, or abet the waging of war against the government. Sections 302 and 324 provide for punishment for murder and attempted murder, while Sections 427 and 511 enable the state to prevent mischief causing damage and punish attempts to commit offenses punishable with imprisonment. Additionally, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, the Pakistan Army Act of 1952, the Pakistan Air Force Act of 1953, and the Pakistan Navy Ordinance of 1961, furnish further tools for preventing and controlling subversive activities against the state or the public.

The pressing question being raised across various sectors, including the army, government, political parties like PTI, and civil society, pertains to the apparent failure of the state to deliver justice in the May 9 incident, despite having full authority to do so.

Additionally, there’s widespread inquiry into why the state has been unable to substantiate the alleged involvement of PTI in a court of law, despite claiming to possess incontrovertible evidence. Is it justifiable to solely attribute blame to the judiciary for its inability to administer exemplary punishment to those responsible for violence against the state, or does some responsibility also lie with the state for its failure to construct a compelling case against the perpetrators?

Furthermore, there are queries regarding how certain political figures, initially apprehended and purportedly implicated, were subsequently released and even rewarded without undergoing due judicial process, while others who resisted compliance remain incarcerated.

Another significant question revolves around the legality of the allegations leveled by the DG-ISPR and the army chief against the judiciary for alleged incompetence and systemic deficiencies in dispensing justice while there exists an established principle that victims should not exert pressure or issue threats to the judiciary to secure convictions according to their narrative. Instead, they are urged to build robust cases based on evidence and legal reasoning, rather than mere dissatisfaction with court proceedings.

Questions have also been raised regarding why the state failed to prevent the attacks in the first place, and what were the underlying reasons and constraints behind the executive’s failure at all levels to prevent rally participants from reaching, entering, and damaging the Corps Commander’s house without encountering resistance. This is especially pertinent considering that the PTI chairman had warned the government of severe public reaction if he was arrested, yet neither the state desisted from arresting him nor put in place mechanisms to prevent the highly likely backlash by the public.

Additionally, inquiries have been made about the charges against army personnel, including high-ranking officers, who were scrutinized and punished in relation to the May 9 incident. Were the charges against them solely due to complacency, or were they also suspected of being part of a larger conspiracy against the sitting army leadership?

Analysts and jurists are also raising questions about the legality of the politically tainted press conferences by the DG ISPR and the legality of his offer to forgive the aggressors if such forgiveness is sought. This is particularly concerning considering that such crimes are against the state, matters of public concern, and national security. Therefore, individuals or political parties involved should be held accountable for such offenses through transparent legal proceedings to ensure a fair trial and due process, while also maintaining public accountability.

Questions have also been raised on the motive, purpose, legality, and justification of the use of public funds—whether utilized or not—for running expensive advertising campaigns on all forms of media by both federal and provincial governments, soon after May 9, 2023, and continuing thereafter. These emotionally charged ads are termed as a tool to create a biased environment that may directly or indirectly impede the judiciary’s ability to dispense justice fairly and impartially.

Analysts and jurists believe that these divergent views demand an independent investigation or constitution of a judicial commission to thoroughly examine the entire event by factoring it the role, part and versions of all stakeholders including the PTI, the Army, the governments, the interior ministries, the police, the Corps Commander, and intelligence agencies.

The Commission will on its part may develop an agreed-upon terms of reference, develop the scope and mechanism of the investigation, dilate upon motives, purpose and reasons for committing the act, identify all role and part played by state and nonstate actors, analyze videos and audio evidence and take a holistic approach to identifying the victims, the aggressors and the bystanders who failed to perform their mandated duty. The findings should then be submitted to the superior judiciary for further adjudication in accordance with the constitution and laws of the land to apportion blame and recommend exemplary punishments.

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