The Lahore episode

June 22, 2014

The Lahore episode

It was a rather happening political situation -- Imran Khan holding rallies against the PML-N government every other week against what he calls "rigging" in the 2013 elections, Dr Tahirul Qadri announcing his arrival in Pakistan on June 23 to bring about a "revolution", Sheikh Rasheed announcing a train march and the Chaudhrys of Gujrat forming an anti-government alliance… Then the military launched Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists in North Waziristan and their positions changed.

Khan, Qadri, Rasheed and Chaudhrys, all considered close to the military establishment, have decided to go easy on their plan to launch an anti-government movement. Imran Khan has postponed the June 23 rally in Bahawalpur, Rasheed cancelled his train march and Qadri was thinking of postponing his return to the country when clashes broke out as the supporters of his Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) resisted attempts to remove barriers outside their leader’s offices in Lahore’s Model Town area. Eight people, including two women, were killed in the encounter.

The PML-N has an uncanny yearning for crisis, says Amir Mateen, a political analyst. "When it does not have a crisis at hand, it specialises in creating one," he wrote in his The News column on June 18.

The raid on Qadri’s office in Lahore was exactly that. The ruling party has given a chance of a lifetime to Qadri, who may have a strong cadre of followers but is hardly a match to the PML-N’s.

Only a week ago, Chairman, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) and an ally of the PML-N, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, said in the National Assembly that "dark clouds are hovering around us; the establishment is at it again. We have to save democracy before anything happens."

While speaking in the assembly in the presence of PM Nawaz Sharif, he questioned the timing of Qadri’s return to the country on June 23, adding that dubious forces bent on destabilising the democratic process were supporting him.

Achakzai also questioned the timing of Imran Khan’s rallies and Qadri’s return. He urged the political forces to join in the fight against these forces.

"PML-N set up a cell in district coordinator’s office to monitor 24/7 the activities of Minhajul Quran and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). There was a clear message from the leadership to curtail PAT."

But seemingly, the PML-N government does not believe in an inclusive approach to resolve the political crises. The party has often resorted to aggressive tactics to tackle its political opponents. "It has not learnt lessons from its past mistakes," says Islamabad-based senior journalist Khawar Ghumman. "This raid will result in a grand alliance of opposition parties, as PPP, ANP and MQM do not support the raid."

Imran Khan has already assured his full support to the PAT and has also demanded the resignation of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Presently, he is not in the mood to make an alliance with the PAT but has announced to go ahead with rally in Bahawalpur on June 27, instead of on June 23 as was earlier announced.

Most importantly, Ghumman observes, the military leadership is unhappy over the Lahore episode.

According to some military sources, a division in ranks is the last thing the country needs at a time when the most important military operation has been launched against terrorists in North Waziristan.

The PPP leadership has been watching the situation carefully enough. An alliance of the PPP with another political party cannot be ruled out. "We also want an independent election commission and free and fair elections in this country," says senior PPP leader Afzal Nadeem Gondal, adding that the PML-N leadership does not need enemies. "The party is its own biggest enemy and of democracy".

Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif has offered to resign if found responsible for the PAT-police encounter. "That a raid on the office of his political opponent took place and killed eight people is fact enough for him to resign," he says.

A senior police official who took an active part in the Lahore raid tells TNS on condition of anonymity that such an incident could not have occurred without the prior approval of the political high-ups. "I do not know why the PML-N is so scared of Dr Qadri. It set up a special cell in district coordinator’s office to monitor 24/7 the activities of Minhajul Quran and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). There was a clear message from the PML-N leadership to curtail PAT and that was at the back of the minds of police officials who were raiding his office. The police officials, including myself, wanted to make the political bosses happy," he says.

Dr Tahirul Qadri and his party have already blamed the CM Punjab and his cabinet for killing of their workers. "Our case is against the chief minister and his cabinet," Qadri said on June 18 while addressing a press conference through a video link from Canada. "We will bring the whole country along to get the FIR registered," he added.

The PML-N leaders admit off-the-record that all is not well. They believe the establishment is behind Qadri and Imran Khan.

The Lahore raid has given life to the opposition parties. "This could have been easily averted," says a senior PML-N leader.

The situation for the PML-N is getting tougher, as its natural allies, like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, are siding with Khan these days. "The PTI has decided to give a final blow to the PML-N government after Ramzan. A final deadline would be given on the issue of recounting in four constituencies, and if it fails to do so, we are going to launch a long march against the government after Ramzan," says a senior PTI leader.

"Since the issue of Geo TV, the PML-N has been on the wrong side as far as the powerful military establishment is concerned," says Khawar Ghumman.

"The next few months are going to be tough for the government. There are already talks of mid-term elections in the power circles of Islamabad. Long march of Imran Khan would be too much for the government to handle," he says.

Theoretically, the PML-N and the establishment are not on the same page as far as the military operation in North Waziristan is concerned. The ISPR issued a press release 24 hours before the PM announced the launching of military operation -- and, still, they are on the same page?" he asks.

The Lahore episode