If there was ever a need for strong, decisive leadership from the Prime Minister, it is now. The National Assembly has been divided before, the benches raucous and unruly, but the crisis gripping the lower house of the Parliament goes to the core of democratic principles. The stakes are high; national security, foreign interference, parliamentary procedure, human rights and freedom of speech are all wrapped up in this new maelstrom. Treason – a hefty word in all other circumstances – is being bandied about with reckless abandon. With hotheads and provocateurs stealing the limelight and no explicit government policy visible, a melee – like the fistfight that almost broke out on the floor of the Parliament – seems to be the only conclusion.

This is where we need the Prime Minister to step in. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government – in the Centre and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – needs to take a clear, well elucidated position on the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and controversy surrounding the checkpoint incident. What is to be done about the arrested MNAs and whether they will be produced in the National Assembly are questions that need to be definitively answered – from the top and not through disparate spokespersons that contradict each other and inflame the issue. We have seen the Prime Minister’s ability to be the statesman that can cut through the divide to unite the nation, as he did following the brief aerial skirmish between Pakistan and India.

However, we have also seen him complicate an issue by neglecting to take a clear position on it. The standoff over Shahbaz Sharif’s PAC chairmanship nomination, the uncertainty over the IMF bailout, the question of Gilgit Baltistan’s constitutional statues – all of these would’ve benefited from strong leadership from the PM.

He must not balk now, when he is needed the most – by his government and by the Pashtun people.