ALL eyes are on the thousands of Tehreek-i-Labbaik activists camped out in Wazirabad, waiting for instructions from their leaders to continue on to Islamabad. Moving ahead could result in tragedy. On Friday, hundreds of Punjab Rangers personnel were deployed at two main points along the route to push them back.
A meeting of the National Security Committee the same day gave the government the green signal to hold talks with the banned organisation, but with the caveat that there would be no compromise on “crimes” committed by its workers. So far, at least four policemen have been martyred and around 250 injured in violent clashes with the marchers as law-enforcement personnel tried to stop them proceeding towards the capital. Tensions are running high, and the situation is on a knife-edge. It is also a moment ripe for making political capital by pushing the PTI government against the wall when it appears increasingly vulnerable for a number of reasons.
Thankfully, however, the opposition parties have chosen not to be tempted by opportunism where the TLP protest is concerned and have so far acted in a mature and responsible manner. Rather than inflaming the situation further by provocative statements, they have either chosen to be reticent or made statements urging that lessons be learnt from what has transpired. Shehbaz Sharif, alluding to the PTI’s four-month long dharna during the PML-N rule when Imran Khan threatened to bring down the government, tweeted: “When you undermine a legitimately & genuinely elected Prime Minister … & attack Parliament for petty political gains, you open the floodgates for chaos and anarchy. The country is the ultimate sufferer… .”
It is pertinent to recall that in 2017, the PTI did not desist from adding fuel to the fire when the TLP’s protests over a particular change in the election law began gathering steam, with Imran Khan even saying that his party workers wanted to join the Faizabad sit-in. That 20-day dharna had disastrous consequences for the PML-N government and — having been brought to an end through a one-sided army-brokered deal — for the democratic system as a whole. Indeed, democracy will only take root in this country when all political parties realise that resorting to expedient, ‘off-the-books’ tactics weakens each one of them. And, as the PTI government may be realising today, there will inevitably be a reckoning.
This can, however, also be a watershed moment where the incumbents — now that the wheel has come full circle — recalibrate their approach towards the opposition. Political parties on both sides of the aisle must learn to have a functional relationship on key issues; the business of governance cannot proceed smoothly without it. Moreover, they must arrive at an understanding over how to deal with undemocratic forces that are beginning to regularly hold hostage every government, no matter which party it belongs to.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2021