Pakistan Reader

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Pakistan Reader
9 May Violence: One Event, Different Actors, Multiple Outlooks

  Dhriti Mukherjee

On the anniversary of the 9 May riots, different sections of Pakistan expressed different sentiments. The ruling government and the military remained highly critical of the perpetrators who were responsible for the “dark chapter” in the country’s history, vowing that such an incident would never be allowed to re-occur. PTI members had announced plans for rallies and protests, but the size of the gatherings was not significant, and police detained party activists and supporters in multiple places. A more neutral stance was taken by the media, which put forth arguments on behalf of both the PTI and the government.
9 May and the Present Government: Highly Critical of the PTI
The government decided to dedicate the anniversary of the 9 May riots by paying tribute to the martyrs and their families, observing the day with the slogan “May 9, never again.” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif asserted that the government would punish all individuals involved in the 9 May riots to prevent such an incident from happening again in Pakistan. During a ceremony in Islamabad where the families of the ‘martyrs’ were present, he said: “I promise you all that the law will take its course and such an incident will not recur in the country.” He also stated that Pakistan is “proud of its heroes for their utmost love for their country.” This ceremony had been organized by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in which Sharif regretted that a group of people from a negative mindset had desecrated the martyrs’ memorials on that day. He further warned that anyone engaging in treasonous acts, attempting to divide the state’s institutions and the public, would receive exemplary punishment. The efforts of the army were also appreciated by Sharif, for being ready to combat challenges of multiple kinds.
President Asif Ali Zardari issued a statement wherein he said that 9 May would be remembered as a dark day in the country’s history when a “politically instigated mob ran amok” and damaged public property and military installations. He noted that prior to these riots, Pakistan had “never seen such vandalism in responsible democracies, with violent mobs wreaking havoc on state properties for political gains.” Zardari called upon “all political parties” to work together towards “promoting tolerance, democratic values, political dialogue and provide a clear direction to the nation.” Separately, the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Attaullah Tarar, described the 9 May incidents as the “biggest conspiracy” that were “systematically planned to undermine the country’s defence.” He echoed sentiments similar to Zardari, saying that such a “tragedy has never ever been witnessed that was aimed to weaken the country.” Additionally, Senate Chairman Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani condemned the 9 May incident as a “dark chapter” in Pakistan’s history which left Pakistan “shocked and outrage.” He asserted that “such reprehensible actions have no place in civilized societies.”
The Chief Minister of Punjab, Maryam Nawaz, also put out a message saying that Pakistan “will neither forget nor forgive” 9 May, which is a “dark chapter” in the country’s history. She added: “The authoritarians, in their lust for power, did what even the enemy could not do. It is very crucial to bring the anti-Pakistan plotters to justice, because their power lust has crossed the red line of honour and dignity of the nation.” Further, she emphasized that “those who violate the dignity of the country and the nation for the sake of politics cannot be forgiven,” which is why all of the “characters burning in the fire of hatred are about to meet their end.”
9 May and the Opposition: Willing to Face the Consequences
On the anniversary of the 9 May incidents, the PTI had planned to hold protests across the country, however, as per PTI spokesperson Raoof Hasan, following the ban on gatherings in Islamabad, dozens of PTI supporters in different cities were arrested. He claimed that the Islamabad police were arresting party workers in an attempt to prevent them from holding rallies and protests. He pointed out: “Section 144 has been already imposed in a number of cities, including Islamabad. We will hold peaceful rallies and there is no plan to hold sit-ins. The state is so much afraid of Imran Khan that it has again changed the prisoner number of Imran Khan.” The party had planned to hold rallies at every provincial assembly constituency level in Pakistan, as per the instructions of Imran Khan, which protestors holding up Khan’s photos. In Karachi, PTI workers tried to record their protest in the Pir Ilahi Buksh Colony, but were dispersed by police who also arrested six activists. In Peshawar, a rally was held at Chowk Yadgaar where party leaders and lawmakers addressed the crowds. Demonstrations were also staged in Swat Valley, Jahangira, Nowshera, Pabbi, and Kurram.
Also on 9 May, Hasan stood outside Adiala Jail and conveyed Khan’s directives to file three writ petitions in the Supreme Court (SC). The first petition would be regarding the retrieval of CCTV footage from military installations on 9 May, the second would address the incident that caused the death of 16 individuals on the same day, and the third would look at the recent statement of former caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar on Form-47. Khan linked the purported theft of CCTV footage to the “London plan,” and had raised concerns that the alleged theft of the footage captured his arrest at the Islamabad Judicial Complex. Further, Hasan said that an additional petition would be filed to bring the former commissioner of Rawalpindi before the court.
A day earlier, on 8 May, while speaking to the media, Khan refused to apologize for the 9 May riots, saying he is ready to face an inquiry into the sit-in staged by the PTI in 2014. He stated: “Why should the onus be on me to apologize? The apology should be directed towards me.” This statement came after the director-general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) called for a public apology from the PTI over the 9 May protests. Khan maintained that if the establishment is uninterested in dialogue, the PTI would not pursue it either.
9 May and the Establishment: Unwilling to Forgive
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir asserted that there would be no “compromise or deal with the planners and architects of this dark chapter” in Pakistan’s history. As per a statement from the ISPR, Munir regarded 9 May as a day when “deliberately indoctrinated and insidiously guided miscreants attacked the symbols of the state and national unity, disgracefully desecrating the martyrs’ monuments.” He blamed schemers behind the incident for currently “brazenly and shamelessly trying to twist the narrative and implicate the state in this despicable endeavour.” He also accused them of allowing Pakistan’s enemies to mock the country due to the “deplorable acts of criminally orchestrated violence.” Munir also said that the “gullible elements who did not understand the real motive behind this criminal enterprise and were used as cannon fodder for the political ambitions of the masterminds have already been accorded reasonable benefit of doubt on the direction of” the SC. However, leaders who claimed to be victims would be “held accountable for their actions,” and all the “planners, abettors, facilitators, and culprits” of the riots would be “brought to justice.” Munir appreciated the troops for their “services to nation and appreciated their professionalism,” especially in the light of “digital terrorism” that had been unleashed by abettors “trying to create division between armed forces and people of Pakistan through peddling lies, fake news and propaganda.”
The ISPR issued a statement of its own as well, in which it underscored the need to bring the “real culprits of 9 May to justice” in order to “ensure that in future, no one dares to desecrate the memories of our heroes and the symbols of our unity through such an unwarranted conduct in future.” It described the riots as a “futile attempt to bring about a misplaced and shortsighted revolution in the country,” which were “thwarted” by the army. Since individuals responsible have since “embarked upon a sinister campaign of hate against the armed forces and the state with an intent to twist the narrative to their advantage and shift the blame on the state institutions,” there can neither be “any compromise with the planners, facilitators and executors of May 9 tragedy nor they would be allowed to hoodwink the law of land.” Both the armed forces and the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and services’ chiefs condemned the “criminal acts” planned by “politically motivated and brainwashed miscreants.”
9 May and the Civil Society: In between the Establishment and Opposition
Opinions and editorials in the media focused on the current situation in Pakistan, a year after the 9 May riots. An editorial in Dawn noted how there seems to “be even more bad blood between the PTI and the security establishment” as both sides are “unwilling to reconsider the combative stance they have taken towards each other.” It argued that the violence directed at installations across the country was a “direct consequence of the narrative built by the PTI following its ouster,” which is why the party should “acknowledge that it acted in an extremely irresponsible manner by leading its supporters towards such an unacceptable reaction.” At the same time, instead of “acting with restraint,” the state responded with “extreme measures that seemed to have been taken from the playbooks of past dictatorships,” meaning the state is also to blame. Linking Pakistan’s political instability to the “PTI-military stand-off,” the editorial called on the government to prosecute the cases in civilian courts in a fair and transparent manner to help close the chapter “satisfactorily.”
analysis in The Express Tribune pointed out that there have been “several thousand nine May [s] in Pakistan’s history,” such as when the “civilian governments were taken over by the military dictators,” when the judiciary was intimidated to give favourable judgements, and when “every election was rigged in Pakistan and pseudo-political pressure groups were formed to dismantle the so-called anti-establishment party.” Given that Pakistan “has nine May every day,” steps must be taken to ensure that incidents like the above cease to happen. For this, Pakistan’s “power paradigm will have to be readjusted.”
Separately, an 
editorial in The Express Tribune noted that there has been a “slow pace of prosecution” despite a year having passed since the riots took place. The failure to ensure justice has been topped off with a “failure to bring charges quickly and overcharging several suspects with terror charges,” causing “unnecessary suffering and provided fuel for anti-state narratives.” None of the PTI’s leaders has offered more than “watered down condemnations of the violence,” and the party’s “comical attempts to deflect responsibility” have been of no real consequence. The editorial contended that “everyone knows the protestors were PTI leaders,” so if the party wants to become a party known for governance, it needs to “admit their own failings and work with others to fix the system for everyone, regardless of who is in power.”
CM vows to 'not let May 9 happen again',” The Express Tribune¸10 May 2024;
PM vows ‘exemplary punishments’ for May 9 perpetrators,” The Express Tribune, 9 May 2024;
Nadir Guramani, “
President Zardari says May 9 to be remembered as ‘dark day’ on eve of 1st anniversary,” Dawn, 9 May 2024;
Syed Irfan Raza & Ikram Junaidi, “
Govt dedicates May 9 anniversary to martyrs,” Dawn, 9 May 2024;
PTI to move SC to recover ‘missing’ footage of May 9 events,” The Express Tribune, 9 May 2024;
PTI holds rallies in various cities to mark May 9 anniversary,” The News International¸ 10 May 2024;
Iftikhar Shirazi & Abdullah Zehri, “
No compromise or deal with planners and architects, says army chief on May 9 anniversary,” Dawn, 9 May 2024;
May 9 fallout,” Dawn, 9 May 2024;
Durdana Najam, “
The May 9 saga,” The Express Tribune, 9 May 2024;
May 9: one year on,” The Express Tribune, 9 May 2024

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