FEAR tactics have never worked in the past, and most likely will not this time either. The government’s ill-advised decision to use the state apparatus to intimidate PTI leaders and their supporters on the eve of their march to Islamabad has only worsened political tensions at a time of severely heightened volatility. It is unclear why the PML-N feels unleashing violence will help it regain ground over the resurgent PTI.
After initially signalling it would allow the march to proceed, its policy significantly hardened after a Monday meeting attended by the prime minister and his elder brother from London. The PML-N reportedly decided that an early election would not be ‘dictated’ by Imran Khan and gave Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah carte blanche to ‘deal’ with the PTI marchers.
The minister promptly ordered police parties to ‘raid’ key PTI leaders’ homes in the late hours of Monday and make arrests. Videos and pictures of the police action were uploaded to social media, inviting widespread anger and condemnation.
As Tuesday wore on, both the government and the PTI appeared unwilling to take a step back and re-evaluate their stance. Mr Sanaullah, flanked by the government’s allies in a press conference, issued a terse defence of the government’s heavy-handed actions, stressing that the PTI no longer has permission to march to Islamabad. The denial of PTI’s right to protest was premised by the interior minister on clashes that took place between protesters and the police during the 2014 dharna, as well as some PTI leaders’ boisterous ‘warnings’ that there would be a ‘bloody’ march this time around.
Simultaneously, while addressing his own press conference, Mr Khan was inviting the judiciary and establishment to step in and ensure an early election before the situation worsened any further. He also remained adamant about heading to Islamabad today. He urged his supporters to not be intimidated by the government’s tactics, asking how many people the police could realistically arrest.
This is exactly the situation observers feared the country was headed towards as the tussle for power between the government and the PTI grew increasingly bitter. Both sides are equally to blame for this intractable mess.
This government has lost its legitimacy due to its inability to deal with major challenges, inviting public criticism and giving more impetus to the PTI. It now looks desperate to reassert itself as it resorts to using force. Meanwhile, the PTI chief’s relentless attack on both state and government has introduced considerable disorder into the system. He is not willing to give an inch, regardless of the cost the country may end up incurring.
With the country’s political leadership entangled with each other, the situation does not bode well for the future. Space is rapidly opening for non-democratic forces to intervene. Any such development will be a great loss for us all.
Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2022