Many assumed that things would become unpleasant and noisy soon as the war of words and political rallies heated up. But so soon and so massively; very few thought so. The so-called narrative and posture of defiance adopted by the opposition alliance (PDM) in general and PMLN in particular had to come close to the ‘real thing’ sooner or later. However, a veteran politician and insider of PMLN, Ayaz Sadiq took that moment to the centre stage with a few of his sarcastic sentences in the National Assembly last week.

As expected, the Indian propaganda mill went into overdrive using his comments to mock the Pakistani military and the government. Local media and PTI government were full of allegations such as labelling Ayaz Sadiq as traitor, playing into the hands of India etc. Later, Ayaz Sadiq clarified that the Indian social media and TV channel reports about his speech were “totally contrary” to what he had actually said in parliament.

As the reaction settled a bit, he and his party made it clear that they stand with his statement. Engineer Khurram Dastagir, another prominent PMLN leader, stressed in one of his TV appearances that he was also present in the same meeting. He asserted that Ayaz Sadiq’s statement should not be made a big issue, otherwise he himself is privy to many secrets and can spill the beans too.

PM Imran Khan was prompt in amplifying the verbal attack by his ministers. He made a loaded comment while addressing a gathering at Gilgit Baltistan that it is now their (while naming PMLN and allies as dacoits) turn.

So, here we are; face to face.

Meanwhile, Indian media had the most joyous time mocking the Pakistan military and political leadership. PM Narendra Modi and his hawks have been claiming that it was his threat which prompted the immediate release of the captured pilot by Pakistan. Of course, Pakistani authorities vehemently refuted this claim. However, the speech of Ayaz Sadiq, knowingly or inadvertently, lent credibility to the claims of PM Modi during that period.

A leading Indian newspaper, quoted on April 21,2019; “Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that he had warned Pakistan of ‘dire consequences’ if the pilot was not freed immediately during the post-Balakot skirmishes…”

What India has been claiming and Pakistan taking pride in a rare mid-air encounter in recent history reveals opposing interpretations of the same incident. Apparently, the speech of Ayaz Sadiq and the subsequent assertion by his party of standing firm with his statement angered PTI ministers and PTI supremo PM Imran Khan.

Taking this defiance to the next level, PMLN launched its own version of ‘Tiger Force’ with the name of Sher Jawan Tehreek (Young Tigers’ Movement) last Sunday at Lahore. It’s not difficult to make out that PMLN is preparing for the extreme showdown. The defining moments of defiance are coming closer.

The response of the government and the PTI leadership is loaded with anguish and extreme bitterness and centring around declaring Ayaz Sadiq as a ‘traitor’ and PMLN as playing in the hands of the Indian media. The tone of the PM along with the echoes emanating from the press conferences of Sheikh Rasheed, the Minister for Railways, is indicating a showdown anytime soon. The chorus of ‘traitors’ is all familiarly orchestrated and being played all over again.

The history of labelling the dissidents of ‘Islamabad’ traitors is pretty long. Ironically, history has proved most of the past ‘labelling’ as ill-intentioned and ended up causing irreversible political damage.

Is it going to be different this time? Maybe not; as this is the first time that a battery of leaders hailing from Punjab and an ex-ruling major political party is up to confront the government and the establishment. Political divide and intolerance have reached an unseen level. Only time will tell if dismissing political opponents as ‘traitors’ works this time or not. In either case, can somebody tell the occupants of Islamabad hills to coin some different label for political opponents? Pakistan has had enough of this label. no more ‘traitors’ please.

Khalid Mahmood Rasool

The writer is a Lahore based political economist, writer and Urdu columnist.