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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Pakistan Army’s image takes beating as crowds ransack military property

The inability of the security agencies for whatever reason to protect the symbols of the military might such as the GHQ, the Lahore Corps Commander’s residence and other properties has also dented the image of the Pakistan military’s invincibility, media reported.

Though the period between the arrest and release has highlighted the deepening political polarisation in the country, some experts believe that the events of May 9 — which was declared as history’s dark chapter by the army — will have a negative impact on the PTI-establishment relationship, The Express Tribune reported.

Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob feels that “the events of May 9 following the arrest of Imran Khan would have profound and adverse impact on the future relationship of the establishment and the PTI”.

The Pildat chief said the rampage of PTI supporters and their attack on military installations and properties will eventually harm the public standing of the party, The Express Tribune reported.

“Unless the perpetrators are quickly identified, prosecuted and punished, the wounds inflicted on May 9 will not heal,” he said.

The Pakistan Army has entered the fray with an unprecedented challenge to the leader of a political party, writes Pakistan author F.S. Aijazuddin in Dawn.

Aijazuddin wrote that the ISPR explicitly warned PTI leader Imran Khan. It advised “the political leader concerned to make a recourse to legal avenues and stop making false allegations”. Failing that, “the institution reserves the right to take legal course of action against patently false and malafide statements and propaganda.”

Khan retorted that his accusations targeted individuals, not the institution per se. This clarification was not nearly enough.

“Orders were issued, presumably at the highest level within the powers that be and are, to arrest Imran Khan. On May 9, the Pakistani public witnessed for the umpteenth time the unedifying spectacle of yet another political leader being manhandled into a Black Maria for incarceration,” he wrote.

“The backlash this time has been fierce. Images are being circulated on social media of attacks on GHQ and the house of the Lahore Corps Commander in flames. Both appeared unguarded. Their gates opened at the sight of a mob,” Aijazuddin wrote.

Baqir Sajjad, Pakistan Fellow at Wilson Centre said on the Supreme Court for Imran Khan’s release said, “New definition for ‘release’ would have to be crafted. He is technically free man, but practically in custody and permitted to meet few people, who have been cleared. But I agree that not only today’s development, but whatsoever happened over past few days has been setback for the Army.”

“When and where premises of military installations and Commanders’ houses were last breached by protesters. No one would dare even go to Rawalpindi’s Mall Road to stage a protest. That’s definitely nothing to be proud of, but it is a major change that has taken place,” Sajjad added.

Director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre, Michael Kugelman, termed the arrest a “huge escalation in a long, ugly crisis”. He also pointed out that the arrest came following Imran’s reiteration of allegations against military officials, Dawn reported.

“There are clear indications that there is a lack of agreement within the Army on the proper way forward,” Kugelman says, BBC reported.

“My sense is that the senior-most Army leadership would be happy not to see him involved in politics any more, whereas many elements in the lower and middle ranks of the Army are big supporters of Khan. Khan has polarised politics, he’s polarised the public and he’s polarised the Army as well, which is a difficult feat to pull off.”

As per the ISPR’s statement — detailed, pointed, no-holds-barred — protests “targeting Army property and installations” were part of a well-thought-out plan targeting the Army. The scenes that were witnessed on Tuesday (May 9) were indeed disturbing.

PTI protesters ransacked, vandalised and even set on fire some public and private property. That they were able to set fire to the Corps Commander House in Lahore and enter territory belonging to key Army installations made for visuals that were deeply disturbing to the image of the state, The News said in an editorial.

No wonder even PTI leaders were soon seen distancing themselves from these mobs. More than a hundred police officers were injured in Punjab and over a dozen in Peshawar as well.

“The ISPR has said that this “group in political garb” has done what the country’s enemies could not do in 75 years, all in its “lust for power” and that the “Army showed patience and restraint and exercised extreme tolerance” despite knowing the orders, directives and complete pre-planning (were) by some sinister party leadership,” The News said.

Since Tuesday, there had been murmurings about why and how the scale of protests had been ‘allowed’ to go on. The ISPR statement may have also been meant to put an end to the scores of social media forwards that have relentlessly talked about internal breakdowns, martial laws, coups and what not.

There was a flurry of ‘audio leaks’ — a very Pakistani political tool that comes in handy at extremely convenient times — that seemed to suggest that these violent attacks and protests were pre-planned by the PTI. Some PTI leaders were arrested yesterday and political observers say that a crackdown is imminent in the wake of the alleged audios, The News said.

The optics of Army installations being targeted or military officers homes being ransacked did no favour to the PTI. If rumours are to be believed, there is a chance the party may face a ‘ban’ though some observers say this step will be quite drastic, The News said.

Pakistan is teetering after former Prime Minister Imran Khan was dramtically arrested by paramilitary troops on corruption charges, sparking a deadly outpouring of anger against the powerful military that has put the country on edge, CNN reported.

Unrest has spread across multiple major cities, resulting in unprecedented scenes of defiant crowds breaking into military properties and setting the homes of Army personnel ablaze, directly challenging a usually untouchable force that has long sat at the apex of power in Pakistan, CNN reported.

Since it won independence in 1947, Pakistan has struggled with political instability, regime changes and coups with the military having a historically decisive role in who stays in power.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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