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August 13, 2020

Showdown in Lahore

Editorial

 
August 13, 2020

After some months of relative calm on the political front, a new and potentially ugly battle has arisen after Maryam Nawaz Sharif was summoned to the NAB offices to answer a query about land owned in Raiwind. She went, accompanied by a large number of activists, supporters and PML-N leaders. According to Maryam Nawaz, persons in the uniform of the Punjab police began pelting her vehicle with stones. Images broadcast on news channels showed stones piled inside PML-N vehicles as well. The narrative from NAB and the Punjab government is quite the opposite; they say the PML-N workers struck first and the police reacted to their violence. For now, it is difficult to say with surety how exactly it all went down.

The incident is however significant for several reasons. The post-NAB appearance press conference by Maryam Nawaz, which was widely broadcast showed her accompanied by PML-N leaders -- excluding Shahbaz Sharif and some others. Shahbaz Sharif’s absence drew the usual conspiracies and musings over a ‘factionalised PML-N’. What is a bit bizarre though is the way government representatives seem to constantly bring this one issue up: Shahbaz Sharif vs Maryam Nawaz Sharif. One must, however, admit that the difference in posture between Shahbaz Sharif – who appears to have gone to the backfoot and has not changed that stance for some time – and Maryam Nawaz, who even on Tuesday spoke clearly where she stood, accusing the PTI of gross mismanagement and victimization through NAB.

Following the fiery press conference, it was announced that a case had been registered against PML-N activists for throwing stones at police and creating a law and order situation. At the same time Mariam Nawaz’s husband Capt Safdar has filed an FIR against Imran Khan accusing him and the PTI of an attack on his wife. The scenario obviously adds to the political polarization in the country. It is impossible to say to what extent the sequence of events was orchestrated and by whom. Certainly, the PML-N we saw at the presser appeared prepared to put up a fight. But, given the past few months and Maryam Nawaz’s recent history, one cannot be too sure about which way the PML-N is headed – confrontation or compromise. However, the political opposition and the government are now more strongly lined up against each other than ever before. It also seems obvious that there are divides with the PML-N itself. Whether the PML-N handled the charges made against Maryam in a dignified and appropriate manner is a different question, and regardless of that there should be an investigation into the series of events that took place outside NAB’s offices on Tuesday. Unfortunately, our politics continues on its divided – and divisive – path.