London, Bilawal House worried by govt handling of Madina incident

Published May 3, 2022
A combination photo of PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar and PML-N leaders Javed Latif and Khwaja Asif. — DawnNews/DawnNewsTV/Reuters
A combination photo of PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar and PML-N leaders Javed Latif and Khwaja Asif. — DawnNews/DawnNewsTV/Reuters

• Javed Latif says state should become complainant
• Khawaja Asif not in favour of ‘revenge’
• Farhatullah Babar says party will always oppose ‘weaponisation of religion-based laws’

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The top leadership and saner elements in the PML-N and PPP — the two largest partners in the ruling coalition — are unhappy over the handling of the situation after the Madina mosque incident and registration of cases against PTI leaders in different parts of the country.

Background interviews with a number of senior leaders of the two parties reveal there is a general feeling within the ruling coalition that the government may have “overreacted” to the issue, and the registration of cases and action against some PTI leaders is now proving counterproductive for the government.

They are of the view that swift action by the Saudi authorities against the Pakistani pilgrims, who appeared to be PTI supporters, over slogans of “chor, chor (thieves)” and “lotay (turncoats)”, and physically attacking some members of the official delegation of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the widespread condemnation of the incident had put the PTI on the defensive, but the government’s actions have not only provided an opportunity to the former ruling party to control the damage, but also to portray itself as a victim.

Some protesters were seen chasing and trying to physically assault federal ministers Shahzain Bugti and Marriyum Aurangzeb who were saved and escorted by the guards and police officials.

“People’s sympathies were with us initially after the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident. But now the sentiments have started shifting to the other side,” acknowledged a key member of PM Sharif’s cabinet and a PML-N office-bearer while talking to Dawn on condition of anonymity on Monday.

Recalling that the parties now in the government had in the past criticised Imran Khan for using religion for political gains, the minister said the registration of cases and some statements by politicians linking the incident with blasphemy had damaged their narrative to a great extent.

“Secondly, these actions and reactions have provided an opportunity to the culprits to present themselves as victims which is evident from the statements now coming from the civil society and other saner quarters who are opposing the registration of blasphemy cases,” said the minister.

Responding to a question, he said PM Sharif had not issued any directives in this regard and the matter was being solely handled by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah.

Meanwhile, federal minister Javed Latif of the PML-N went public with his opposition to the government’s policy of registering first information reports (FIRs) against the PTI leadership over the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident, saying it will further fan the “Imrani fitna” (mischief).

Mr Latif, who has yet to be assigned a portfolio, also expressed his inability to speak on the matter in the cabinet as it was not his party’s government alone. “I could have spoken on the matter directly (with the prime minister) had this government not been a coalition. Through this presser I want to request Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif not to register FIRs on the complaints of different people on the sensitive matter of the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident. Rather the state should come forward and become a complainant to deal with the Imrani fitna,” he said at a press conference in Lahore on Monday.

The minister reportedly does not enjoy cordial relations with PM Shehbaz since commenting on the latter’s purported links with the establishment.

A PML-N insider told Dawn that Latif was not alone in this ‘request’ to PM Shehbaz against taking an aggressive stance on the matter that could give further political mileage to Mr Khan.

“Some senior PML-N leaders are of the view that Imran Khan and his close aides should be exposed for their corruption and not dragged into religious matters. This will not reflect well on us at the end of the day,” he said, adding the PPP was also openly opposing Shehbaz’s policy of using the incident to implicate the PTI leadership in cases.

The insider further said PM Shehbaz, who is otherwise known for his reconciliatory politics, should not follow the advice of party hawks like Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah of using religion to hunt down political opponents.

Even Defence Minister Khwaja Asif has advised the government to avoid a clash. “I am not in favour of extracting revenge (from political opponents). Being in the government, we should avoid a clash,” he told a news channel on Monday.

Moreover, PPP secretary general and former senator Farhatullah Babar through his Twitter handle called the supposed institution of blasphemy cases against rival PTI leaders “most disturbing, insane and condemnable”.

Mr Babar said he had always opposed “weaponisation of religion-based laws” in the past, opposes it now and will oppose it in future also.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Babar urged the government to provide counsellor’s access to the Pakistani pilgrims detained by the Saudi authorities. Interestingly, the veteran politician has made this demand despite the fact that his party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is the foreign minister.

The Faisalabad, Attock and Islamabad police have registered separate cases against PTI chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan and over 150 others, including party stalwarts Fawad Chaudhry, Shahbaz Gill, Qasim Suri, Sahibzada Jahangir and Aneel Musarrat, for defiling a sacred place on the complaints of various citizens in the wake of the hooliganism at Masjid-i-Nabwi during the visit of an official delegation last week. The Saudi government has arrested some of the Pakistanis for hooliganism in violation of the regulations.

Following registration of the FIRs, police arrested former interior minister Sheikh Rashid’s nephew, Rashid Shafique, upon his arrival from Saudi Arabia on Sunday. A district court in Attock on Monday sent him on a two-day physical remand in police custody over the mosque incident. As his uncle Rashid, Shafiq is also accused of inciting and planning the incident in Madina.

PTI leaders, on the other hand, have called the incident a spontaneous reaction against the ouster of Imran Khan from power. The party, through its vice president and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry, has already filed a writ petition in the Islamabad High Court, calling for cases against its leadership to be declared “illegal”. In the petition, Mr Chaudhry has also blamed Mr Sanaullah for targeting the PTI leadership.

Despite repeated attempts, the interior minister could not be reached for comments.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2022

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