Desperate moves

Published March 19, 2023

IT seems the Punjab caretaker government has taken its cue from Maryam Nawaz’s recent words. On Friday, the PML-N leader called on the federal coalition government to begin the process of banning the PTI which she described as a “militant organisation implementing a foreign agenda”. For good measure, she added that Imran Khan should be dealt with “like a terrorist”.

Yesterday, while the former prime minister was en route to an Islamabad court in connection with the Toshakhana case, a police operation took place at his Zaman Park residence in Lahore. Heavy machinery was deployed to smash through the front gate and dismantle barricades erected outside the entrance.

It soon became clear that the federal government too was on the same tack. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a news channel that the “terrorists” inside Zaman Park had been apprehended and a cache of explosives, petrol bombs and bomb-making material was recovered.

The prime minister, whom his niece had taunted the day before by saying there would be a “question mark on the Shehbaz-led government if it does not go for [initiating the process to ban the PTI]” tweeted that Mr Khan’s “fascist and militant tendencies” had been exposed.

As it happened, the Lahore operation worked to Mr Khan’s advantage. Incensed PTI supporters staged another protest outside Islamabad’s Judicial Complex in his support. The cops responded with tear-gas shelling, which meant Mr Khan could not enter the court’s premises and his indictment had to be postponed.

After the tumultuous events earlier this week during the police’s failed attempt to arrest Mr Khan from his residence, there appeared some hope that a cooling down in the political temperature was on the cards. The former prime minister had responded positively, if obliquely, to Mr Sharif’s offer of dialogue, saying he could talk to anyone for the sake of the country.

Moreover, on the high court’s directive, it was agreed that a Punjab police team would search Mr Khan’s Zaman Park residence as part of its investigation into attacks on law-enforcement personnel when they tried to execute court-issued warrants for his arrest.

The PTI leadership and provincial police also arrived at an agreement to cooperate in the investigation. So what provoked the need for such heavy-handed police action as though busting a terrorist den? The civility on display, the conciliatory moves — so desperately needed — all appear to have gone up in smoke.

Uncertainty once again hangs in the air. What is not beyond any doubt — notwithstanding the unacceptable violence by PTI supporters — is that by succumbing to politics of expediency, the government has shot itself in the foot. Treating a major political leader, that too a principal rival, like an outlaw is short-sighted and reeks of desperation — much like Ms Nawaz’s demand to ban the PTI.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2023

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