Mexican stand-off

Published August 25, 2022

A STRANGE madness appears to be afflicting our political leaders. Knives out, they are chasing after each other in the hopes of landing a killing blow, not realising the damage they are doing to their own future prospects with the harmful precedents they are setting that ‘others’ can easily exploit.

Consider the developments over the last fortnight. The federal government has slapped case upon case on former prime minister Imran Khan and his chief of staff Shahbaz Gill, with charges ranging from treason to terrorism, making it clear there are no red lines when it comes to taking rivals down.

In Punjab, the PTI-PML-Q government waits for PML-N leaders to set foot on their turf so they can arrest them on trumped-up charges as revenge for Mr Khan’s ordeal in Islamabad.

More recently, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government also entered the fray by announcing it will approach the provincial judicature for a series of tit-for-tat cases against the PDM leadership for the same ‘crimes’ Mr Khan et al have been accused of.

This Mexican stand-off between our political parties is now drawing international attention, more so since the government egregiously decided to bring terrorism charges against Mr Khan. The foreign media’s coverage of the fracas in Islamabad can hardly be described as flattering. Many will likely be having difficulty wrapping their heads around how a politician could be charged with terrorism for criticising the state and government while actual terrorists are being relocated, seemingly by the state, to Swat despite strong public opposition to their return.

Read: Uncivil politics

It is clear that the PML-N has committed another blunder by invoking the Anti-Terrorism Act against Mr Imran Khan and provided his campaign with yet another boost. The last thing the government needs while battling a crisis of legitimacy at home is the international community also turning against it.

It is about time the PML-N accepts that its strategies to suppress Mr Khan have only made him a more formidable opponent. Tactics from the 1990s are clearly not serving the PML-N well in 2022. The times have changed: coercion and state-sanctioned violence no longer have currency in a hyper-connected citizenry aware of its fundamental rights. Even now, it would serve the party well to step back from its self-created mess and let the law take its course.

Similarly, Mr Khan must set himself a daily reminder that he needs to act more like a leader than an autocrat. Even if he did not intend it as a ‘threat’ — it is up to the courts to decide if he did — his diatribe against Judge Zeba Chaudhry was condemnable and entirely unnecessary. He must apologise for it. Instead of focusing his wrath on the problems plaguing the system — problems that Mr Khan claims to be aware of and insists only he can fix — it is unseemly for him or any leader to attack individuals instead.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2022

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