This cycle has been seen before, a party was targeted by Rangers and federal law enforcement agencies- the party protests, threatens to pull out of alliances and hits back at the federal government, and finally Nawaz Sharif directs his government to take things down a notch, saying that he does not want “political unrest”. A few weeks later the cycle starts again.

Where previously the party in question was Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), now it is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). While the names change, what remains the same is the way this cycle plays out: the Prime Minister pays lip service to terms of reconciliation and the operation of the agencies goes on unimpeded. But MQM is not PPP; Altaf Hussain is no Asif Ali Zardari. Perhaps the Prime Minister means to actually impose his wishes, but the real question is not whether he wishes to slow down the crackdown, it is weather he has the authority and the ability to do so.

The Prime Minister met with his cabinet to appraise the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) when he raised the banner of reconciliation, and he directed his ministers to take the necessary steps. While he makes all the right noises, the PPP, and the MQM will still be wary as the rest of the meeting undercut most of what he said. The cabinet was unanimous that the Karachi operation and the anti-corruption campaign must continue – which stands in direct contradiction to a ‘slowing down’. Furthermore, the direction was given to the federal ministers, who may be able to rein in the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) – that too by only a certain measure – but his minister will be able to exert little control over the Sindh Rangers, who are the real driving force behind the operation.

It cannot be denied that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) needs allies. But whether the other parties need state patronage is another matter. The PPP has used the Rangers’ operation to great affect; Bilawal Bhutto has been touring constituencies, rallying his supporters against this ‘oppression’, while the local poll candidates have allied themselves with other out of favour parties against the government. This is good material for propaganda, good ammunition to stir up the crowds before the LG polls. In all probability, the PPP will stay away from reconciliation – at least until the polls are over. They do have secrets to protect.