Home Editorial Editorial: Volte-face after May 9 Riots

Editorial: Volte-face after May 9 Riots

The dimming of PTI’s political prospects after its chaotic demonstrations leave it fewer options for potential negotiations with authorities

by Editorial

File photo of PTI chief Imran Khan

It is difficult to digest the volte-face Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has displayed after the May 9 riots that vandalized and ransacked various military buildings and installations, including the Lahore Corps Commander’s house. Immediately upon his release, Khan denied his party was involved, blaming “agencies men” for the violence; this was subsequently amended to “PDM conspirators.” As the national sentiment turned against the PTI, the bravado of the party’s stalwarts vanished, replaced with a “nationalist” line they had dropped last year in favor of revolt. The most prominent example of this came from Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, who condemned the rioting in a press interaction outside the Islamabad High Court, specifically citing the vandalism at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and the Lahore Corps Commander’s home.

Nearly two weeks after the riots, the PTI’s official line appears to be condemnation of the destruction of military buildings coupled with an attempt to regain the Army’s favor by disowning anyone who was involved. In an explainer, U.K. daily The Guardian noted Khan’s divisive politics, with some seeing him as the “anti-establishment savior that Pakistan has long been waiting for” even as others blame his “alleged corruption, economic ineptitude and scorched-earth political tactics” for the country’s prevailing political, economic and constitutional crises. Initially, questions were raised over how the public would react to the PTI over the unrest, but as the Army—now firmly in control—made clear its rancor, these quickly transformed into concerns over how Imran Khan would be tackled.

If the PTI is able to negotiate an amnesty with the establishment, it will almost certainly be linked to general elections. Previously, the PTI refused to even consider October—as repeatedly proposed by the government—for the polls, but under the present circumstances it might not have much choice. It is also not too hard to imagine that the ruling coalition and the Army, citing the May 9 violence, might seek a delay beyond that point. The intervening months will undoubtedly see a ramp-up of cases against the PTI’s leadership, with a very real possibility of Imran Khan being disqualified from contesting polls. The party is already seeing an exodus, with declarations of party exits now a daily occurrence. This will, in turn, reduce the party’s popularity—key for the beleaguered government alliance to contest polls with a “level playing field.”

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