Unbelievable. Another day and the PML (N) government creates yet another self-destructive crisis. This time it was PML (N) in the Punjab. Seems the government is on auto-pilot as it travels on its blundering path. So unnecessary and equally incredulous. Only 24 hours earlier, the Prime Minister urged the entire nation, the political class included, to be united, to stand on ancommon platform and support Operation Zarbe Azb. This fairly difficult operation, the Prime Minister had emphasized in the two Houses, had been launched to establish the writ of the State and to deal with the debilitating curse of terrorism, and it required national unity and national resolve to succeed.

It all happened only 7 hours after the Prime Minister’s address to the Senate and the National Assembly. Now, from a united political front, we are beginning to descend into political confrontation. A completely incomprehensible and bloody move in Lahore has left 8 people including Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s supporters, three women and a police commando dead. Blunders multiply our tragedies. The bloodshed which is entirely avoidable continues adding to the collective pain of and the deteriorating security of Pakistanis.

Less than 7 hours later, the Federal government’s partner PML(N) government hits a sixer of a crisis. Around 1.30am in the early hours of June 17th, the Punjab police decided to remove the barricades around the Pakistan Awami Tehreek chairman Dr. Tahirul Qadri’s residence. According to the Jinnah hospital authorities, around the same time, emergency had been declared at the Jinnah hospital, perhaps fearing clashes and injuries etc as a result of the military operation. Reports indicate that the senior police officers including SP Model Town Tariq Aziz were involved in the Operation from its start. This was of course never intended to be an ordinary Operation. Clearly, the resistance of the private men at the barricade must have been calculated. Those planning the Operation must know that the PAT leader’s feisty and anti-government interviews and speeches must have injected sufficient militancy and anger in his supporters. Police commandos were also reportedly involved in the Operation.

The newly appointed IG Punjab, Mushtaq Sukhera, would have cleared this operation. Going in the middle of the night to conduct an Operation against, essentially men guarding the residence of his government’s principle political opponent, would most unlikely have happened with the new IG’s knowledge. Sukhera otherwise, an experienced police officer with experience as the head of an Anti-Terrorism Cell had especially been posted in Baluchistan by the PPP government.

Undoubtedly, there was politics attached to the timing of this Operation. The Operation was launched against these privately manned barricades which the Punjab Minister for Law Rana Sanaullah told Capital News, had been set up a month back. When asked why the Operation came at this particular time, he said the government could not afford to allow the “existence of a no-go area.” Obviously the barricade that was there, only a week before the PAT leader’s arrival, had suddenly become a serious enough security threat that it was decided to launch an Operation in the middle of the night.

There can be no argument that there must be rule of law across the country, that there must be no private barricades, that there must be no militias. But a quick scan of who guards and how, the residence and offices of those who are powerful and influential, presents the sorry state of law. All this must change, but was this the time to do it? Was this the time to take a risk of a major confrontation? And why the PAT at this point, why not the other parties?

The answer seems simple. Political insecurity and some panic seem to have motivated this Operation. Over the last month, the TUQ leader’s vitriolic attacks against the PML(N) government were on the rise. Dr. Qadri also announced his date of arrival while reiterating his resolve to begin an ‘Inqilab.’ The war of words between Qadri sahib and the PML(N) men had flared up. The fiery speaker Shiekh Rashid was generously unloading his own anti PML(N) and pro-Qadri rhetoric. None of this was making the PML(N) leaders feel secure. The media talk of the establishment’s nod to Qadri sahib to launch an anti-PML(N) movement, however flimsy, would have added to the PML(N)’s insecurity. Accordingly, the Punjab and Federal governments seems to have concluded that Tahir ul Qadri sahib is their main threat. He talks of a revolution and insists upon ensuring the removal of the government.

The security considerations in launching this Operation were negligible. With the major Operation Zarbe Azb having been launched in North Waziristan against terrorist outfits, the aim of a genuinely security-related Operation would have targeted militant hideouts or cells in Lahore and other cities of Punjab. The Punjab police operations would have been engaged in neutralizing outfits which, as is being feared, would threaten Punjab’s urban areas in the blowback being feared after Op Zarbe Azb has been launched. But clearly, the clearing of this privately manned barricade outside the TUQ leader’s residence was not part of such an operation.

The subsequent developments including the Punjab Chief Minister’s admitting the blunder, calling for an inquiry and setting up a judicial Commission has not prevented scathing political criticism from PML(N)’s opponents. While the criticism and demands of action against those responsible is understandable, the PTI’s decision to go ahead with its Bahawalpur jalsa on June 27th is surprising. It was postponed because of the Operation Zarbe Azb, but will now be carried through because of the Punjab police’s bloody Operation. The two do not add up. When Imran Khan says Nawaz Sharif is just not behaving like a leader, there is truth to what he says. But is it sound leadership to go back on the roads at a time when the military Operation is underway and a backlash of that Operation puts everyone under threat? Is it not the time to focus on the larger threat, the issue of IDPs, of the security of urban areas, of still trying to motivate those among the militants who want to surrender and integrate within the mainstream ?

While the pressure on the Punjab government for its bloody Operation, and calls for its accountability should continue, its time to focus on the larger common threat we all face. This is no time to protest on the roads.

 The writer is a columnist and senior anchor at Capital TV.

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