THE political farce playing out over the control of Punjab is threatening to turn into a disaster.

The besieged Punjab governor, with just a few days left in office, has written to the military for ‘assistance’ in what is essentially an unrelenting tussle between the PML-N and the PTI-PML-Q alliance over who will keep control of the prosperous province. The army chief has been sent a ‘reminder’ that he has “a role to play in the implementation of the constitutional framework in the province”.

This unabashed invitation for military interference in the province’s affairs is unconstitutional and utterly condemnable. It is unfortunate that the PTI, with its very recent experiences of how undemocratic partnerships ultimately pan out, seems to have learnt nothing from the process.

The governor, Omar Sarfraz Cheema, has since doubled down on his stance, saying that he can arrest newly sworn-in Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz if he is granted the assistance of one subedar and four jawans from the army.

Editorial: Punjab crisis

It is unfortunate that things are turning so ugly. The two sides do have bitter differences and it is quite possible that the new Punjab chief minister is transgressing his bounds by taking actions that are legally unjustifiable. Still, their fight, like all political fights, can and should be resolved within the strict bounds of the Constitution and the rules and laws regulating the democratic order.

It is unfortunate in this context that, far from seeking the judiciary’s guidance in the matter, the Punjab governor, who had earlier not complied with the court’s instructions regarding the constitutional crisis, is now approaching the army to make it clear that he has no faith that the judges will act as neutral arbiters.

Needless overt and covert appeals for military interference in what are essentially political and constitutional disputes have become an unfortunate feature of Pakistani politics. Meddling in political affairs has earned our security establishment unneeded epithets like ‘umpire’, ‘third force’ and ‘khalai makhlooq’. Ambition and a certain over-regard of their managerial capabilities have led many a general to play the game of thrones, with the result being the steady corruption and disembowelment of our entire governance system.

We now seem to be at a point where every major political party has tasted from the chalice of fauji ‘benevolence’ and found it bitter. All efforts should now be directed at blocking such interference, not inviting it, to allow the democratic project to stabilise.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2022

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