FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 18

Time to break the political impasse

The political battle is on in Pakistan with no holds barred. The PDM government is adamant to eliminate Imran Khan from the political field and has shown by its actions that it is ready to go to any length to achieve its objective. On the other hand, Imran Khan and his loyal band of supporters are putting up a tough fight to foil the ruling party’s design.

Last week Lahore was the scene of pitched battles between police and Rangers on the one hand and lathi-wielding supporters of the PTI on the other at the Zaman Park residence of Imran Khan. Heavy teargas shelling and use of water cannons by the law enforcement agencies failed to subdue the PTI workers who responded by pelting stones and throwing petrol bombs. Dozens from both sides were injured while one PTI supporter was killed in the melee. The entire city was on tenterhooks until police withdrew from the scene following a court order.

A few days later the Punjab police again raided Imran Khan’s residence when he was en route to Islamabad to appear in a court in connection with the Toshakhana case. In the course of the operation the police deployed heavy machinery to smash through the front gate and dismantle barricades erected outside the entrance. In a video message, Imran Khan’s sister, Dr Uzma Khanum, claimed the police had conducted the operation without warrants. Stating that the policemen harassed women and tortured servants, she said the policemen brutally thrashed unarmed people in the house.

PTI President Chaudhry Parvez Elahi also visited the Zaman Park after the raid and called the action brutal and violent. He said the use of shelling and rubber bullets on workers and employees was condemnable. The PTI leadership described the police raid as “state terrorism” and said the operation was part of a London Plan to eliminate the PTI chairman. PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry claimed the operation was in violation of the court orders and created an environment of anarchy across the country.

It may be noted here that after the tumultuous events of last week during which the police failed to arrest Imran Khan from his residence, there appeared some hope of a cooling down of the political temperature in the country as the PTI chairman had responded positively to PM Shehbaz Sharif’s offer of dialogue, saying he could talk to anyone for the sake of the country. Besides, on the high court’s directive, it was agreed that a Punjab police team would search Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence as a part of its investigation into attacks on law-enforcement personnel when they tried to execute court warrants for his arrest. The PTI leadership and provincial police also arrived at an agreement to cooperate in the investigation. But the heavy-handed police action botched everything.

The question is:  Who scuttled the move to cool down tempers and start a process of negotiation to bring political harmony and peace in the country? Who was behind the heavy-handed police raid on Imran Khan’s residence with cranes and excavators as if a terrorist den was being attacked?

The answer is that there is a group of hardliners in the PML-N led by Maryam Nawaz whose objective is to eliminate Imran Khan from the political field and quash the PTI as apolitical entity. They are afraid of the growing popularity of Imran Khan and know that they have no chance in a free and fair election which the PTI will win hands down.

This is evident from the fact that as tension ran high, PML-N Senior Vice President Maryam Nawaz Sharif called on the coalition government to treat the PTI as a “terrorist organisation”. She also said that the government should deal with the PTI in the same way it deals with terrorists and banned organisations. At a press conference in Lahore she accused Imran Khan of “openly revolting against the state”. Taking a cue from Maryam Nawaz, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a news channel that the “terrorists” in the Zaman Park had been apprehended and a cache of explosives, petrol bombs and bomb-making material was recovered.

Tough talk, obstinacy, use of abusive language and scurrilous personal attacks have brought the country to a dead end. Politics is the art of the possible. Politics is best conducted when you give space to your rivals and accommodate their genuine demands. Imran Khan is a political reality and he cannot be eliminated through executive or legal actions. In the same way, Imran Khan should not expect that he can defy court orders or crush the opposition parties.

The economy is sinking by the day. Political instability is making matters worse. It is time saner elements on both sides of the political divide took matters in their hands and started a process of negotiations and reconciliation to rescue the country from the present impasse.