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The level of toxicity in the political arena not only increases with each episode, it also widens the trust gap and further increases the animosity. Each side’s interpretation of the situation now almost contradicts the interpretation of the other, making it increasingly doubtful that any kind of compromise or agreement will be reached.
This rift was further highlighted during the press conference held on Saturday by the caretaker Punjab Chief Minister and IG on the death of PTI worker Ali Bilal.
Contrary to what PTI leaders said, both officials insisted that he was killed in a road accident that was “sadly misconstrued” and that custodial torture was not to blame.
When the caretaker decided to use force against persons who disobeyed Section 144 imposed in Lahore to take part in a rally to launch PTI’s campaign for the provincial elections, Bilal was one of the party members arrested by the police on Wednesday.
Even before pictures of Bilal’s battered body later surfaced on social media, the sight of PTI workers being subjected to batons, water cannons and tear gas was horrifying.
The post-mortem report, which listed at least 26 injuries and concluded that the deceased had suffered “severe trauma”, supported party president Imran Khan’s claim that the activist had been tortured to death while in custody.
Custodial torture is a common practice in the Punjab police, which has an established reputation for being a heavy-handed and unaccountable institution. Its actions through this incident would hardly have changed the public’s perception of it. The police initially claimed that the footage showing Bilal being driven away in the police car was old. They changed their story and claimed they had discharged Bilal before his body was taken to the hospital later that day after their initial claim was proven false. They later said they arrested two persons after hearing them say that Bilal had been fatally injured in a collision with their car.
What is the account of those who were present when the alleged accident happened with the victim? What do the activists who were also detained alongside him think that the police released him? There are still many unresolved issues. How Bilal died must be determined by an impartial investigation, free from allegations of bias. Yet this incident, which begins with a one-day installation of Section 144 in Lahore on an entirely flimsy basis, also raises serious concerns about the caretaker government’s suitability as an impartial arbiter.
Its coercive tactics against the PTI and biased media comments made by some of its ministers following Bilal’s demise bode ill for stability in the nation’s largest province.
However, they will strengthen PTI’s political narrative. PML-N may want to consider it.