It’s a new day? – 16 May 2023

Where last week was all about PTI protests, this week seems to belong to the government and its assorted allies, benefactors, and appendages. This week, first came the courts though, with the chief justice asking the government and the PTI to resume talks. A three-member SC bench was hearing the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) plea to revisit the April 4 order to hold elections on May 14. Since it was May 15, a day after no elections were held in Punjab despite court orders, the hearing was seen as a crucial one. Some were even anticipating that the court may issue contempt of court notice to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, his cabinet, concerned departments and the ECP. However, there weren’t any such fireworks. This could be for a number of reasons. One, because of the audio leak between PTI lawyer Khawaja Tariq Rahim and a journalist. Two, the PDM dharna outside the SC. The third reason could be the way that the court went out of its way to facilitate one man and then got flak for it from legal observers and their own fraternity.

Next up was the National Assembly, which heard some fiery speeches against Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and which also unanimously adopted a motion seeking the formation of a committee for filing a reference against the CJP in the Supreme Judicial Council for “misconduct and deviating from [his] oath”. This comes in the wake of the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court’s ‘extraordinary relief’ given to PTI Chairman Imran Khan after the SC declared his arrest illegal. Between this and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari telling the PTI that is the party’s “last chance” to decide whether it is a political party or a terrorist organization – and we have a re-energized allied government.

Not only that, in what is being seen as a rather pointed (and painfully obvious) message, the PDM took to the streets in a surprisingly short and not-so-sweet dharna with some unsurprisingly anti-judiciary speeches by Maryam Nawaz and Maulana Fazlur Rehman in Islamabad. The speeches were hard-hitting but more than that, this was evidently a power show meant to prove that it’s not that difficult for the PDM too to take out supporters if need be. The message is believed to have been for the apex court: if you can give a clean chit to PTI protesters, what will you do if our protesters do the same? A dangerous conflagration if there were one has already resulted in the country being divided into extreme poles. Maryam Nawaz asking teh CJP to step down and then the dharna being called off right after an ISPR statement regarding the special Corps Commanders Conference may give a sign of where things are headed. And they may be headed towards a serious point, one that could have so easily been avoided. The ISPR statement released on Monday evening says that the army top brass has decided to try protesters and their abettors under relevant laws, including the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act. This is as clear a statement of intent as can be, and observers say that this will mean an even bigger crackdown – also warning that it will do next to nothing for the already-waning democratic credentials of the country. The coming days are going to be grim.

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