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Roving Periscope: Pakistan dubs as a “Dark day” the May 9, 2023 anti-army ‘coup’

Roving Periscope: Pakistan dubs as a “Dark day” the May 9, 2023 anti-army ‘coup’

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: As jailed former Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi refused to apologize, the Pakistani government decided to mark Thursday (May 9) as a “Black Day,” the first anniversary of the unprecedented anti-army riots and violence that gripped the nearly bankrupt country after the cricketer-turned-politician’s arrest.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, in what was seen as a popular anti-army ‘coup,’ thousands of Imran Khan supporters and workers of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) openly attacked several military establishments, created mayhem all over the troubled nation, and left properties in flames.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Thursday there “can be no absolution for those who orchestrated, supported, and assisted the attempt to damage the foundations of our nation,” the media reported.

“Let not the shadows of lies hide the light of truth,” he posted on social media platform X. A year ago on May 9, not only were the symbols of Pakistan’s “national pride and honor” attacked, but the “sanctity of our sacred homeland was also assaulted.”

“There can absolutely be no soft-pedaling of what happened on May 9 and there can be no absolution for those who orchestrated, supported, and assisted the attempt to damage the foundations of our nation,” Sharif said.

President Asif Ali Zardari also said that May 9 would always be remembered as a dark day in Pakistan’s history. Condemning the unprecedented violence, he said those incidents severely tarnished Pakistan’s image, which only served the interests of its enemies. “Those responsible for the May 9 violence should be held accountable according to law.”

On May 9, 2023, after Imran Khan’s arrest, protesters stormed the gates of the Pakistani Army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, attacked and burnt the Lahore Corps Commander’s house, and set security posts and police vehicles on fire at several places across the country.

The Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi was attacked, as protestors targeted an army convoy in Lahore. They also blocked roads in Pakistan’s major cities, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Multan, Quetta, and Faisalabad.

In an uncharacteristic display of anger, which caught the Pakistani armed forces by surprise, monuments of its martyrs were also attacked, vandalized, or desecrated.

The PTI workers set fire to police vans and security check posts in Karachi with the police trying to disperse them using tear gas and baton charges.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, protestors set fire to a replica of the Chaghi Mountain, under which Pakistan had tested its nuclear bomb in 1998.
Pakistani police and PTI workers also clashed in Quetta and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Police arrested over 4,000 people in the wake of the May 9 riot and protests, including senior leaders of Imran Khan’s political party, the PTI, according to Human Rights Watch.

According to the PTI, over 10,000 party members were arrested post-May 9, with the party saying they were illegally detained under ‘fake cases.’ In a fierce crackdown, the main opposition party was almost dismantled, its symbol seized, and leaders imprisoned and outlawed.

Pakistani authorities also rounded up and arrested key PTI leaders and workers, along with others, who had posted live videos of the attacks on social media. Criminal cases were registered against them.

According to the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency (PILDAT), the country’s law enforcement agencies stopped pursuing those PTI leaders who resigned from their party posts, expressed respect for the Pakistani Army, and condemned the May 9 incidents.

Citing the PILDAT report, Pakistani media said that none of the accused had been convicted about the May 9 violence until January 2024.
An April 2024 report by Pakistan’s Attorney-General submitted to the Supreme Court said that 20 people, who had been sentenced to one year of imprisonment by a military court, had been released. The Pakistani Army still had 103 accused, including 33 army personnel, in custody.
According to the PTI, 52 party leaders and workers, including 19 women, are still incarcerated.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday after court proceedings in a corruption case, Imran Khan refused to apologize for the May 9 riots, saying he was under detention at the time and unaware of those protests.

However, he added that he had already condemned the violent protests.

On Tuesday, the Pakistani Army ruled out any dialogue with the PTI unless the party’s leadership tendered a public apology.
For his part, Khan said that if Pakistan’s establishment was not interested in a dialogue, then PTI would not pursue one either.


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