WITH the dust from the PDM’s implosion still not fully settled, the PTI is now faced with growing dissension from within its own ranks which threatens to expose the latent fissures within the party rank and file. At the heart of this brewing crisis is PTI’s former secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen. He and his son are facing allegations of money laundering and price manipulation as one of the major players in the sugar industry. Multiple FIRs have been registered against them and their numerous accounts frozen while FIA, the investigating agency, continues to summon them for questioning. Mr Tareen has denied all these charges and says he is being hounded for political reasons. For a year he kept quiet and stayed on the sidelines but since last week, he has started to speak out. In fact, others from within the party also began to vocalise their support for him. First a few Punjab cabinet ministers and parliamentarians accompanied him to the summons, and then more than two dozen federal and provincial parliamentarians of the PTI attended a dinner at his home to show their support.

This should worry the PTI leadership. So far Mr Tareen’s supporters have been careful not to criticise their top leaders and have requested a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan in an attempt to persuade him that Mr Tareen is being wronged. Mr Tareen himself has chosen his words carefully and refused to be baited into saying anything unfavourable about the prime minister. However, the number of people standing with him, and their argument that he is being persecuted by people within the party, is reflective of the disgruntlement that is brewing ominously inside the PTI. In terms of power politics, this could have dangerous consequences for the PTI government in Punjab. There are speculations that PTI parliamentarians openly supporting Mr Tareen against their party could constitute a forward bloc inside the Punjab Assembly. With the Usman Buzdar government having a thin majority, a forward bloc could present a clear and present danger for the PTI-PML-Q ruling coalition.

This does not mean that Mr Tareen should not be moved against if he is suspected of wrongdoing. There is merit in Prime Minister Khan’s statement that he will hold everyone accountable regardless of whether the person is associated with his party or the opposition. In this endeavour though, the government has to ensure that the process of accountability is indeed across the board. The evidence so far, unfortunately, is to the contrary. While Mr Tareen is accused of manipulating the sugar prices for profit, there are many sugar barons within the PTI ranks who have not been charged with similar offences. If Mr Tareen is successful in convincing more people in the PTI that he is a victim of some conspiracy, he can create serious problems for Mr Khan.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2021

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