The National Security Committee (NSC) decided on Tuesday to observe May 9 — when multiple incidents of violence and vandalism were reported amid protests sparked by PTI chief Imran Khan’s arrest — as “Black Day” at the national level.
While the protests were under way, social media was flooded with footage of a mob clashing with police in Karachi, attacking and entering the army’s head office, General Headquarters, in Rawalpindi and vandalising the Lahore corps commander’s residence.
Meanwhile, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan’s building was also set on fire in Peshawar.
The NSC’s decision of today is the latest in the string of condemnations of the May 9 events by the country’s civil and military leadership.
The meeting of the body, which is the highest forum for coordination on security issues, was convened under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif at the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad. It was attended by federal ministers, Chief of Army Staff Gen Asim Munir, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza and other top brass, among other senior officials.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after the meeting said it was reiterated during the session that a policy of “zero tolerance” would be adopted towards violence and disturbance of peace.
It added that the meeting’s participants expressed solidarity with the armed forces, “strongly condemning rioting and attacks on military installations for personal and political interests”.
“The participants reiterated the resolve of not tolerating any violation of the sanctity and honour of military installations and public property and being all elements involved in the black day of May 9 to justice,” the PMO statement read.
They also endorsed the top brass’ decision of booking cases under relevant laws — including military laws the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act — against “miscreants, planners, instigators and facilitators” involved in these acts, the statement added.
“The forum made it clear that no leniency will be shown to those who attack
military installations and properties under any agenda.”
The statement further said directives were issued during the meeting to ensure the implementation of social media rules and regulations so that propaganda, which had “external patronage and internal facilitation”, could be curbed and those spreading it could be taken to task.
Moreover, participants of the meeting emphasised “national unity” in light of the geo-strategic situation amid “global political conflicts and the policy of stabilisation adopted by hostile powers”.
They stressed the need to resolve political differences through dialogue, in accordance with democratic values, instead of engaging in confrontations.
The PMO statement said tributes were paid to martyrs and their families in the meeting.
PM Shehbaz addresses NSC
Addressing the meeting, PM Shehbaz expressed similar views as the rest of the meeting’s participants, saying no leniency would be shown to those involved in vandalism during protests sparked by Imran’s arrest.
“I believe that the NSC meeting today expresses solidarity with the Pakistan Army, condemns these incidents,” he said, adding that the law would take its due course and while no one would be punished unduly, those found guilty “will not be spared”.
He began by saying that “from May 9 onwards, some gruesome events have taken place, which have shamed Pakistan and brought a lot of disgrace and infamy” to the country.
“Whatever happened on May 9 will be remembered as the darkest chapter in this country’s history,” he added. “It was a very tragic day that left millions of Pakistanis grieving.”
He stated that today, “we are compelled to ponder as to what was the ideology, group or person behind” these events and forsaking the love for the country.
PM Shehbaz went on to mention several structures that suffered damage during the protests, saying that the “planners” of this vandalism and those who incited them were “certainly guilty of terrorism”. But, he continued, “They also managed to do what Pakistan’s eternal enemy could not do in the last 75 years”.
Condemning these events, he lamented that military installations were “attacked” and “martyrs were disrespected”.
“Never in the last 75 years we saw such a heinous scheme [playout] and such heart-wrenching scenes,” he added.
PM Shehbaz further stated, “Our nation of 22 billion has demanded that those who are sinful, in any regard, should be punished so that such an incident does not take place ever again,” he said.
He also stressed the need for chalking out measures — legal, constitutional and administrative — to prevent a repeat of the May 9 events.
May 9 and after
On May 9, Imran was arrested by the National Accountability Burea with the help of the paramilitary Rangers at the Islamabad High Court in the Al Qadir Trust case — a development that sparked countrywide protests amid incidents of vandalism and violence.
Following the episode, the military has issued three statements in relevance to May 9 events, with the first one terming the day a “dark chapter” in the country’s history.
In its second statement issued last week, the army said it “will not tolerate any further attempt of violating the sanctity and security of its installations or vandalism” and resolved to bring to justice all the “planners, abetters, instigators and executors of [the] vandalism”.
And in a more stringent step, the top military brass vowed yesterday (Monday) to bring the arsonists who attacked the civil and military installations to justice through trial under relevant laws, including the Pakistan Army Act and Official Secrets Act.
The decision was taken at a special Corps Commanders Conference, which condemned the “politically motivated and instigated incidents against military installations and public/private properties”.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Democratic Movement-led civilian dispensation in Islamabad, too, has vowed strict punishment for the perpetrators and termed the vandalism an “act of terrorism”.
Last week, PM Shehbaz had given the law enforcement apparatus a target of 72 hours to arrest “all those involved in facilitating, abetting and perpetrating the disgraceful incidents of arson, ransacking, sabotage and damaging public and private properties” in the wake of the protests that took place in the country after Imran’s arrest.
Several PTI leaders and supporters have been arrested since, while Imran has distanced himself from the incidents of violence and vandalism and called for an independent inquiry into the matter.
He, as well as the PTI, also claims of having video evidence of “agencies’ men” being involved in the riots. But no evidence of such nature has been shared either by Imran or the PTI yet.
Moreover, in a rebuttal to the Inter-Services Public Relations’ statements, the PTI termed the military’s view of the May 9 events “contrary to facts”.
Separately, in a statement issued earlier today in response to the top brass’ resolve to try May 9 rioters under army laws, the PTI said there was a plethora of “irrefutable evidence” to establish that armed miscreants “had been entered into peaceful gatherings”.
“[The] PTI believes that identification of elements involved in this unusual incident of violence and chaos through a credible investigation is inevitable,” the party said.
It added that it had an ample amount of evidence to present to “any independent inquiry” that arson and shootings were carried out by “agencies’ men who wanted to cause mayhem and blame it on PTI so the current crackdown would be justified”.