Pakistan on edge on first anniversary of May 9 mayhem

Islamabad, May 9 (PTI) Pakistan was tense on Thursday on the first anniversary of the unprecedented violence last year by supporters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan against key military installations and government buildings.

The mayhem on May 9 last year was led by supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party who were triggered into action by the arrest of their leader in a case of alleged corruption.

Khan’s party workers vandalised a dozen military installations, including the Jinnah House (Lahore Corps Commander House), Mianwali Airbase and the ISI building in Faisalabad after the cricketer-turned-politician was arrested in a corruption case.

The Army headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi was also attacked by the mob for the first time.

PTI leadership, alleging that May 9 was planned by its opponents, has announced “peaceful protests” on the first anniversary.

Party Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan said in a statement that the government launched a crackdown against its workers to stop them from taking to the streets but they would hold demonstrations.

“Regardless of all crackdown, peaceful rallies and protests will be held all across Pakistan in the morning (of May 9),” he said.

He rejected the allegations of violence on the same day last year by saying that it was a “false flag operation “ against the PTI and its founder Khan.

Meanwhile, authorities in Islamabad declared all gatherings as illegal by imposing a ban.

Separately, in a message released on the day’s eve, President Zardari said, “May 9, 2023, will always be remembered as a dark day in Pakistan’s history when a politically instigated mob ran amok across the country, damaging public property and military installations.”

Condemning the violence, he said that the incidents “severely tarnished” the country’s image and thus only “served the interests of Pakistan’s enemies”.

He termed the mob attacks as an “attempt to challenge the writ of the state, undermine the rule of law and weaken institutions”.

The president said peaceful demonstrations and constructive criticism were the essence of democracy, emphasising that the Constitution enshrined the fundamental rights of assembly and expression.

Nonetheless, he stressed the vital importance of exercising these rights with the “utmost responsibility” while abiding by the bounds of constitutional and legal provisions.

“We have never seen such vandalism in responsible democracies, with violent mobs wreaking havoc on state properties for political gains,” he said.

Zardari urged political parties, the Parliament, the media and civil society to strengthen democracy by upholding the rule of law and fostering a culture of tolerance, political dialogue and inclusivity.

“The current political situation demands that all political parties work towards promoting tolerance, democratic values, political dialogue and provide a clear direction to the nation,” he said.

He regretted and condemned the malicious social media campaign against state institutions, saying “A mechanism should be evolved to check and counter such disinformation campaigns.”

“The president expressed pride in Pakistan’s armed forces and its institutions, which had been a vanguard in defending the nation against various threats. He emphasised that those responsible for the May 9 violence should be held accountable according to the law.”

Following the May 9 violence last year, the 71-year-old cricketer-turned-politician and hundreds of his party colleagues are being tried under multiple cases, including one under the stringent Official Secrets Act in connection with the violent protests.

President Zardari remarked that the country faced numerous challenges and such “irresponsible acts by political forces not only hindered the progress achieved as a nation but further exacerbated socio-economic challenges”.

He also highlighted the need to harness the youth’s potential for the country’s benefit, rather than “instigating them against state institutions”.

He also called for collective efforts to build a better future for generations to come and put an end to political polarisation and hatred.

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