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Editorial: The May 9 Conundrum

Recent statements from the military suggest the PTI’s attempts to mend ties with the establishment are finding few takers

by Editorial

File photo of PTI founder Imran Khan

A year since the May 9 riots, the violent unrest continues to trouble the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has repeatedly alleged it was a “false flag operation” aimed at sidelining Imran Khan from active politics. In a joint statement issued on the first anniversary of the riots, the armed forces, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), and the tri-Services chiefs vowed to punish the “planners, facilitators, and executors of the violence,” and condemned the mayhem. Describing the riots as a futile attempt to bring about a misplaced and shortsighted revolution in Pakistan, it praised the restraint shown by the Army, stressing the caution had foiled a plot “to destabilize the nation by inciting hostilities between the populace and the military.”

Lamenting that “politically motivated and brainwashed miscreants had deliberately resorted to violence against state institutions,” the establishment has made clear its position on the incident, vowing there can be no compromise with the “planners, facilitators and executors” of those responsible for the unrest. This marks a major blow for the embattled PTI, which has recognized—through vitriolic statements against the military leadership—that its attempts to broker “peace” through dialogue are falling on deaf ears. And the person in the spotlight is none other than Imran Khan, who continues to enjoy significant popular support.

While the PTI’s opponents had largely preferred to sit out the clash between the establishment and the former ruling party, their coalition in the incumbent government is thanks in no small part to Khan’s refusal to hold dialogue with them, as it would “damage his narrative.” The PTI now stands at a precipice that requires deft political thinking to overcome, but Khan’s incarceration leaves a leadership gap that hampers any attempts to mount a political comeback. For observers the party has to tackle three main issues: (i) its rift with the establishment, which continues to worsen; (ii) its governance in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where it is now in its third consecutive term in office; (iii) and end increasingly visible factionalism within the party to mount a united front. Whether the party can emerge from its current crisis will depends on how it re-evaluates its politics in the weeks and months to come.

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