THE TLP threat refuses to abate because every government insists on mishandling it by combining ineptitude with lack of will. As the TLP workers numbering in the thousands force their way from Lahore to Islamabad by overcoming all resistance by the law-enforcement agencies, it is becoming clear that the PTI government has successfully landed itself into yet another self-created crisis.
Faced with the pressure of a dharna by the TLP last time, the government had agreed to most of its demands including, as per the TLP, the expulsion of the French ambassador. Earlier this month the TLP leadership mobilised its rank and file to move towards Islamabad because it said the government had reneged on its agreement.
The Punjab Police failed yet again to disperse the crowds and stop them from pushing ahead like an organised group. Then rather inexplicably, after a few policemen had been martyred in clashes with TLP workers, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid announced that the government had reached an agreement with the TLP and would release all detained workers. However, shortly thereafter Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry dispelled this notion and announced that the government had recognised the TLP as a militant organisation and would not allow it to challenge the writ of the state. Hours later, the same interior minister faced the media to say he had authorised the Punjab government to deploy Rangers in the province for 60 days.
All these measures appear to have produced no tangible result. The key failing remains the inability of the government to decide whether it wants to strike deals with the TLP or to use force against it. This seesaw of decision-making has depleted the official resolve required to take decisive steps to overcome the TLP challenge. It is baffling to hear a PTI senator say that Prime Minister Imran Khan was not informed about the government acceptance of the demand to expel the French ambassador.
The confusing approach towards the TLP betrays a mindset in denial — essentially kicking the can of a difficult decision down the road and hoping that the situation will resolve itself. The PML-N government had buckled under the pressure of the TLP and the PTI had made little effort to hide its support of the TLP at that time. Now it is the PTI that is on the receiving end and its leaders must be realising that actions of the past have a nasty way of boomeranging on the perpetrators.
There are no convenient answers to this challenge, as the PTI government can now see. Branding the TLP as a militant organisation and cracking down on it may not be as easy as it sounds because the party is now a bona fide political entity with large support among sections of the electorate. The government may want to be more nuanced in its approach and not rush to judgement either way.
Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2021