Thinking About May 9 In Context

Political mileage from the events of May 9 have been distorted to justify state brutality against a popular political party and to install an engineered government in Islamabad by rejecting the popular mandate, argues Dr. Moonis Ahmar.

Thinking About May 9 In Context

In a press conference on May 8, Director General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) squarely held the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) responsible for attacking military installations and causing harm to the country’s national interest on May 9. On the same day, PTI’s Central Information Secretary termed the charges levied by the DG ISPR as a ‘pack of lies’ and argued that the government in the last year has failed to provide any tangible evidence for the involvement of PTI workers and leaders in the violence that occurred on May 9. In a statement from jail on May 8, PTI founder Imran Khan raised several questions related to the allegations by the DG ISPR, and lamented that the pretext of May 9, which Khan described as a ‘false flag operation,’ a brutal crackdown was launched against the PTI, which is still continuing to this day.

The events of May 9, 2023 were triggered when Chairman PTI and former Prime Minister Imran Khan was mercilessly pulled from color by the Rangers from the premises of Islamabad High Court and put in a prison van. The images of Khan’s manhandling by the security forces led to protests and demonstrations in all major cities of Pakistan, in which 25 PTI workers were shot dead; several were injured and 13,000 people were arrested. The attack on the Corps Commander House in Lahore took place when there was a conspicuous absence of security forces in that red zone, whereas the attacks on other military installations occurred in the absence of proper security details. The killing of 25 PTI workers on May 9, and no casualties among the security forces at the hands of PTI protestors tends to raise doubts and suspicions about the official narrative of May 9. Prominent PTI leaders were arrested under the pretext of the violence that took place on May 9. Dozens were forced to hold press conferences condemning the events of May 9 and announcing their resignation from PTI. No political party in Pakistan’s history, except maybe the Pakistan People’s Party, when it faced state repression during the martial law years of General Zia-ul-Haq, has faced the brunt of state persecution which the PTI has endured. 

Who benefited from the events of May 9 and who bore the brunt of state repression following that episode is not difficult to gauge? Instead of holding a transparent judicial inquiry to probe why there was no security in highly sensitive areas, such as the Corps Commander’s House in Lahore and other military installations which were attacked by unknown persons under the guise of PTI supporters, the state organs began to blame Imran Khan for instigating a revolt against the military. 

Demanding an apology from the PTI for its involvement in the May 9 events by DG ISPR will make sense only when that episode is investigated in a transparent manner by a judicial commission.

Why has no CCTV camera footage been produced before any court of law to prove the involvement of PTI in May 9 attacks? How 13,000 people were quickly rounded up and put behind bars needs to be investigated. Most importantly, why was the Corps Commander Lahore, instead of being court martialed, subject to a compulsory retirement? 

Under the pretext of May 9 events, heavy curbs on media were imposed to the extent that displaying the picture of Imran Khan and covering PTI events was banned. Today on May 9, 2024, newspapers are full of advertisements condemning the incident, along with statements from the Prime Minister that such type of an event will not be allowed to take place in the future. Nowhere is there any mention of state negligence in protecting military installations from attacks launched by unknown people.

Looking at the events of May 9, 2023 from the perspective of history is crucial to unveil the truth before the people, who since the last year have been fed with the state narrative. The PTI Chairman, after his release on May 11 on the orders of Supreme Court, expressed his dismay over the attack on military installations and demanded a judicial enquiry to determine the culprits responsible for such shameful acts. He also questioned who benefited and who faced state repression as a consequence of the events of May 9.

The state narrative that formed after May 9, which solely implicated the PTI for instigating and attacking military installations, was soundly defeated when the election results of February 8 came out. Despite large scale rigging, the PTI emerged as the single largest party. Even the Secretary General of JUI (F) Maulana Fazlul Rehman, a diehard critic of Imran Khan and the PTI, stated that the February 8 election results were a wholesale rejection of the state narrative of May 9. Likewise, except a segment of the military establishment, no major political party adheres to the state narrative of May 9 and considers it a ‘false flag operation’ to discredit Imran Khan and the PTI. 

Demanding an apology from the PTI for its involvement in the May 9 events by DG ISPR will make sense only when that episode is investigated in a transparent manner by a judicial commission. The questions raised by Imran Khan on the matter of tendering an apology remain unanswered by the military establishment. 

For how long will the events of May 9 be used as an excuse to target Imran Khan and PTI leaders with state repression is not known, but one thing is clear: the conspiracy which was well crafted by arresting Imran Khan from the premises of the Islamabad High Court in a humiliating manner and using it to launch a crackdown on PTI lies fully exposed. The worst victim from the May 9 events is the economy of Pakistan and the essence of democracy. 

The events of May 9 need to be seen in context. The surge of anger, particularly amongst the youth of Pakistan, against a segment of the military establishment and their political backers was reflected in the February 8 general elections. Even after crude rigging done through fake Form 47s, in which results under Form 45 were changed, led to the imposition of the PDM 2.0 regime, which the majority of political parties consider devoid of legitimacy. The movement for the protection of the Constitution launched by the opposition parties on April 12 is a logical conclusion of the allegations of massive rigging in February 8 elections. When the state narrative around May 9 lacks legitimacy and is lacking an element of truth, the outcome will be the perpetuation of political instability, leading to an economic crisis.

For the first time in the history of Pakistan, widespread anger and resentment against a segment of the military establishment for its overt support to the PML-N government is unprecedented. Even during the worst episodes of state repression against PPP leaders by the martial law regime of General Zia-ul-Haq, popular chagrin against generals was not as common as it is today. 

Now, in 2024, large-scale antipathy against some generals and their political backers reflects a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s politics. The events of May 9 prove that the fault lines in the Pakistani state, particularly in the country’s biggest and resourceful province of Punjab, are palpable. Unlike the past, when Punjab was termed a bastion of military support by smaller provinces, in 2024, the voices of dissent and resentment against generals are commonplace in Punjab. Large-scale state repression against PTI workers, leaders and followers in Punjab and widespread hatred against military establishment means that Punjab is no longer a safe sanctuary for the generals.

At a time when Pakistan is vulnerable to internal and external threats, using the narrative of May 9 for political consumption and deploying coercion against one political party is counterproductive. 

Growing political consciousness among the youth of Punjab, who happen to largely side with the PTI, means that young people do not subscribe to the narrative of patriotism and hold the generals responsible for the rapid erosion of the economy, for the enduring political instability, poor governance and the erosion of the rule of law. Earlier, former East Pakistan, Balochistan, KPK and Sindh bore the brunt of state repression and military operations. Now it is Punjab which is confronting the narrative of the military establishment. 

At a time when Pakistan is vulnerable to internal and external threats, using the narrative of May 9 for political consumption and deploying coercion against one political party is counterproductive. Taking a look at the 1971 dismemberment of Pakistan and denying the popular mandate expressed in the results of the February 8 general elections reflects that the state has not learned its lessons from history. 

Imran Khan’s repeated references to the tragedy of 1971 when the majority party Awami League was not handed the reins of power by the martial law regime, and the military’s establishment refusal to accept the mandate of PTI in 2024 reflects how naïve and unprofessional state actors are in accepting the reality that the government and political setup established by manufacturing election results will not work. 

The way out from the prevailing impasse is adherence by state institutions to their constitutionally governed mandates, and non-interference in the politics and mode of governance by unelected institutions. When a segment of the military establishment, instead of being neutral, is openly supportive of the PML-N led government and the PPP, and expresses vitriolic sentiments against Imran Khan and PTI, the outcome will be disastrous for the country. 

The economy is in shambles, with foreign exchange reserves held by the State Bank at a meager $9 billion – all of it largely borrowed from the IMF and friendly countries. 
With a paltry economic growth rate of 2%, inflation higher than 20%, and the escalation of the prices of electricity and gas on a monthly basis – the country is facing a serious economic predicament. With the persistent political instability and non-professional handling of key national security issues, the writing on the wall must not be ignored.

Manipulating things under the pretext of May 9 events will be counterproductive and further plunge the country into a perpetual state of chaos and disorder.

The author is the former Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Karachi, and can be reached at