The arrest of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 9, 2023, sparked a wave of violent protests across the country, especially in Punjab province, leading to attack on military installations by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters.
The protesters, enraged by what they perceived as a political vendetta and an attack on democracy, targeted several military installations and state institutions, including the Army Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, the Jinnah House (Lahore Corps Commander House), Mianwali airbase and the ISI building in Faisalabad.
The clashes between the protesters and the security forces following attack on military installations resulted in at least 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries, according to official sources.
The unprecedented attacks on the military establishments provoked a strong reaction from the army chief, General Asim Munir, who convened a special Corps Commanders Conference (SCCC) on May 15 to review the situation and decide on the course of action.
The SCCC issued a statement declaring May 9 as a “Black Day” and vowing to bring those involved in these “heinous crimes” to justice under relevant laws, including the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act.
The statement also said that the army would not tolerate any attempt to undermine its institutional integrity and national security.
Legal and political implications
The army’s decision to try the PTI supporters and leaders in military courts after attack on military installations has raised serious concerns among human rights activists, legal experts and opposition parties, who have questioned the legality and fairness of such trials.
They have argued that civilians should not be tried by military courts, which lack transparency and due process guarantees. They have also pointed out that the army has a conflict of interest in this case, as it is both a party and a judge. Moreover, they have accused the army of overstepping its constitutional role and interfering in political matters.
The PTI, on its part, has denied any involvement in the violence and claimed that armed miscreants infiltrated its peaceful protests and incited chaos and arson. The party has also alleged that Khan’s arrest was part of a conspiracy to pit the PTI against the army and create instability in the country.
The party has challenged the army’s jurisdiction to try its supporters and leaders in military courts and filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a stay order on such trials. The party has also demanded an independent inquiry into the May 9 incidents and called for dialogue with the government and the army to resolve the crisis peacefully.
The May 9 incidents have exposed the deepening rift between the PTI and the army, which were once seen as allies against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government. The PTI had supported the army’s role in ousting Sharif in 2017 on corruption charges and had praised its efforts to curb terrorism and extremism in the country.
However, after Khan became prime minister in 2018, his relations with the army deteriorated over several issues, such as foreign policy, economic reforms, civil-military balance and accountability.
Khan also faced criticism from his own supporters for compromising on his anti-corruption agenda and failing to deliver on his promises of change.
The May 9 incidents have also raised questions about Pakistan’s democratic future and stability. The country has witnessed several episodes of civil-military tensions and coups in its history, which have hampered its democratic development and governance.
The current crisis poses a serious challenge to Pakistan’s fragile democracy and civilian supremacy, which are essential for ensuring peace, prosperity and progress in the country.