Cracks within the coalition government appeared visible on Saturday after Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid and Federal Minister for Water Resources Moonis Elahi traded barbs, with the former accusing the latter's party (PML-Q) of "blackmailing" the government for Punjab's chief minister position in return for support during the opposition's no-trust move against Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Rashid, during a press conference in Quetta today, was asked where he would stand in case of the opposition's success in the no-confidence resolution against the premier. To this, he said his support for the prime minister was unequivocal and akin to a "rock" before taking a veiled jibe at PML-Q which became clearer when he clarified that he was speaking in the context of Punjab.
"I stand like a rock with Imran Khan," said the interior minister, who also has a separate party but is a government ally. "I am not responsible for anyone else. I am not like those people with five [seats in the NA] and who are blackmailing [the government] for the province's chief ministry."
Since the ruling PTI has allies from three provinces, the reporter asked at whom his criticism was directed. "I was talking about Punjab's politics," Rashid replied.
At this, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Moonis Elahi hit back at Rashid, alleging that he "used to take money from the party's elders during his student life".
As per Dawn's sources privy to the matter, the PML-Q has asked the prime minister to announce Chaudhry Parvez Elahi the replacement of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar before calling the session of the National Assembly to take up the opposition’s no-trust motion. The demand is despite the party holding just five seats in the lower house.
“The PML-Q leadership has conveyed to the prime minister to announce Punjab Assembly Speaker Parvez Elahi as the Punjab chief miister forthwith as this will help save the PTI government in Punjab in the face of ‘rebellion’ by the [Jahangir] Tareen group.
"Also the PML-Q will announce its open support for the premier and use its clout to scuttle the opposition’s move in the Centre,” the source told Dawn on Thursday.
“If the premier does not take a timely decision with regard to nominating Parvez Elahi for the Punjab chief minister’s slot, the PML-Q is free to explore other options,” the source had said.
'We can summon the army'
Speaking on Thursday's storming of the Parliament Lodges by Ansarul Islam, a uniformed volunteer force of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), and the subsequent police operation to control the situation, Rashid reiterated that no militia force would be allowed to interfere in Islamabad.
He also said that the security of Parliament House, Parliament Lodges, and old MNA House in Islamabad has been assigned to paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps (FC) on the day the NA votes on the no-trust motion.
He further said that the Pakistan Army could also be called according to Article 245 of the Constitution but "hopefully we won't and the need won't arise".
Rashid accused the opposition of setting up a "market" for buying and selling of votes and blackmailing the MNAs, adding that no matter how much money they spent, the premier would complete his term and defeat the opposition's move.
"[However], it is my prayer and wish that the matter (no-trust vote) is handled with grace and no accident occurs that they (opposition) regret all their lives."
Referring to the prime minister's warning on national television to the opposition in January that he would be even more dangerous for them if he was forced out of office, the interior minister affirmed that "he is indeed very dangerous."