No end to hostility

Published August 17, 2022

IT is no surprise that the PTI-PML-Q government in Punjab is on a collision course with the Shehbaz Sharif administration in Islamabad.

On Saturday, police raided the homes of two PML-N leaders from Lahore, Attaullah Tarar and Rana Mashhood Khan — who have fled to Islamabad — over the violence in the provincial assembly during April’s vote for chief minister. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, too, has been threatened with arrest if he enters Punjab, for ordering a crackdown on PTI supporters trying to reach Islamabad for the May 25 long march.

The Punjab government has made its intentions quite clear: it will do anything and everything in its power to undermine the PML-N in the province before the next elections.

Meanwhile, Hamza Shehbaz has left for London for an indefinite period.

However, it is also clear that the PTI has understood that it cannot compel the PML-N-led coalition to announce early elections that former prime minister Imran Khan had been demanding ever since his ouster. Otherwise, the PTI would have asked Mr Elahi to dissolve the provincial assembly to force the coalition’s hand. Hence, there was no mention of this demand in Mr Khan’s last public address in Lahore on the eve of Independence Day.

Read: The Punjab imbroglio

Yet it doesn’t mean the PTI-PML-Q alliance will not use its control in the country’s political heartland to contain it rivals’ clout in Punjab, advance its agenda ahead of the elections and undermine the federal government to force its collapse. No wonder, several PTI and PML-Q leaders have warned that their government will not hesitate to arrest PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif if he decides to return home to lead his party into elections.

Sadly, what is happening today is not something new in Pakistan’s turbulent political history. We have been here before.

PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif owes his rise to his ‘confrontationist’ politics. He also had refused to accept the authority of then prime minister Benazir Bhutto in the late 1990s. The two situations are not identical though, even if the governments in Punjab and at the centre don’t recognise each other as legitimate.

Unfortunately, the provincial government’s hostility towards its opponents and its use of high-handed tactics against them will deepen political polarisation. We may see tensions between the two sides intensify beyond the war of words in the coming weeks and months.

Rana Sanaullah has already warned of imposing governor’s rule in Punjab in case he is stopped from entering the province. This might have been just political rhetoric. Still, it does indicate that the country may be headed towards an ugly place if such threats come to pass.

The question is: can people and the country’s fragile economy afford another political crisis due to the Punjab-centre confrontation? It is time for all parties to rise above such petty tactics and hostilities for political gains and pull the country back from the brink.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2022

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