Challenges to Democracy: The Fallout of the May 9 Riots in Pakistan

Whatever has happened in the last year during the post-May 9 era should be an eye opener for the public that families of martyrs and military personnel are waiting for justice although one year has passed and on May 7, 2024, Director General Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) Maj-Gen Ahmed Sharif rightly presented the case of Army in the court of public.

The Pakistani National Security Committee declared May 9, 2023, as a “Black Day” because on that day, supporters of a dominant political party stormed the Army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. Along with other assaults that caused enormous material damage and wounded national pride, this one targeted military facilities and the houses of generals around the country. At a critical point, this also sparked political turmoil in Pakistan, with politicians acting out of their own self-interest by attacking security forces and facilities throughout the nation.

In a democratic society, criticism and political competition are natural parts of life. The execution of the May 9 riots in Pakistan, however, casts a negative light on the country’s social security system and public opinion. It is reasonable to expect highly popular political leaders to act in accordance with the Constitution. On the other hand, radical ideas would be introduced by a criminal mind alone, and his followers would be incited to assault the state insignia. Politicians in Pakistan take advantage of their followers since they never want to do their own research, which makes them easy prey.

When political leaders constantly attack their opponents, it damages the credibility and faith in democratic processes. Politicians further polarize society when they engage in combative and polarizing assaults against one another. From a Pakistani political perspective, Imran Khan’s situation is easily understandable. Many now think that the actions of the government threaten democracy and the rule of law, and his style of attacking opponents has eroded popular faith in the democratic system.

Particularly when it comes to matters of national defense or involving members of the armed forces, the military courts may possess unique knowledge and experience in handling such cases. It is possible that the decision to hold court proceedings at military facilities is motivated by a desire to assuage public concerns about the speed and efficacy of justice delivery in high-profile cases that have garnered significant public attention.

In cases such as mutiny, espionage, and photographing in ‘Prohibited’ zones, civilians may be tried in military tribunals under the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) – 1952 and the Official Secret Act – 1923. In addition, the PAA – 1952 specifies in Clause (a) of Sub-Section (3) of Section 2 that anyone who “raise arms or wage war against Pakistan, or attack the Armed Forces of Pakistan or law enforcement agencies, or attack any civil or military installations in Pakistan” will be made to answer for their actions. For prosecutions in military tribunals, the Pakistani police have turned over 33 civilian individuals who are accused of assaulting critical defense sites, taking equipment from the government, and looting official documents and other equipment. Due to the delicate nature of the subject, the government asserts that those responsible for instigating violence will be tried in civilian courts, while those who infiltrated and instigated violence inside military sites would be tried in military tribunals.

When the perpetrators’ acts are believed to constitute an imminent threat to democratic institutions, processes, and higher national interests, military court proceedings may be considered as a means to safeguard the democratic system. On top of that, leaders may express their aspirations for the country, engage in healthy debate, and try to find solutions to these violent incidents. This method may help bridge differences and reduce polarization by emphasizing common goals and similar interests that might unite the nation. Another important point to remember is that “if the military is not there, some other country’s military will be there”—a clear indication that the military is the one institution capable of defending the country against foreign aggression.

There is nothing hidden about the May 9 incident and everybody in Pakistan knows the series of events that culminated in the May 9 Mutiny however many of May 9 perpetrators are sitting in the Parliament although they should have been in prison.

A reminder that no group of political interests should be allowed to plunder the state and its institutions is the dispensation of justice to the May 9 rioters, masterminds, and facilitators. They have committed a long number of atrocities, but the desecration of Pakistani victims’ emblems and monuments only adds insult to injury. The nation will never forget the individuals who shattered its pride, wreaked havoc on its governmental institutions, and plunged it into a protracted period of turmoil.

Wasama Khalid
Wasama Khalid

Muhammad Wasama Khalid is a Correspondent and Researcher at Global Affairs. He is pursuing his Bachelors in International Relations at National Defense University (NDU). He has a profound interest in history, politics, current affairs, and international relations. He is an author of Global Village Space, Global Defense Insight, Global Affairs, and Modern Diplomacy. He tweets at @Wasama Khalid and can be reached at Wasamakhalid@gmail.com

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