Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif leads commemoration on May 9 anniversary amidst political rifts

In a series of statements, current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared there can be “absolutely no soft-pedalling of what happened on May 9” and “no absolution for those who orchestrated, supported, and assisted the attempt to damage the foundations of our nation.”

On the first anniversary of the violent protests that erupted across Pakistan on May 9, 2023, following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, the nation remains deeply divided over the events of that day.

In a series of statements, current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared there can be “absolutely no soft-pedalling of what happened on May 9” and “no absolution for those who orchestrated, supported, and assisted the attempt to damage the foundations of our nation.”

Sharif condemned the attacks on national symbols and monuments, stating the “sanctity of our sacred homeland was also assaulted.” He vowed that “May 9 will never happen again” and pledged to move Pakistan towards development while honouring the martyrs.

President Asif Ali Zardari echoed Sharif’s sentiments, terming May 9 a “dark day” when “a politically instigated mob ran amok” and damaged public property as well as military installations in an “attempt to challenge the writ of the state.”

As the government dedicates the anniversary to martyrs and their families, PM Sharif will chair a special cabinet meeting, while an official ceremony is planned at the Jinnah Convention Centre to pay homage to those who sacrificed their lives.

On the other hand, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which faced a crackdown after the riots with thousands of its workers arrested, plans countrywide gatherings expressing solidarity with their incarcerated leader. Authorities have preemptively imposed restrictions in some areas to counter PTI’s protests.

The violent events of May 9 continue to cast a long shadow, with the PTI alleging they were a “false-flag operation” while the government deems it the “biggest conspiracy” to undermine Pakistan’s defence and integrity. As the nation commemorates the anniversary, calls for accountability, political dialogue and strengthening democracy ring out from both sides of the divide.