- Contradictions from a government unwilling to mend fences
President PML-N and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, out on parole from jail to attend his late mother’s funeral, has called for a ‘national dialogue’ between all political forces to steer the country out of the present crisis. While this is a welcome statement, the political landscape of the country is such that there is simply no space for such a conversation to take place. It is ironic that Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed appreciated Shehbaz Sharif’s proposal while the latter has been in jail for two months and is allegedly being mistreated there. Since taking office, the PTI government has made it a matter of policy to push the opposition to the wall, to the extent that it seems personal at times. For a while, the opposition took it lying down but there was bound to pushback at some point, which came in the form of the formation of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). The alliance has held a series of well-attended rallies, with its latest one in Multan yesterday, for which the Punjab government reluctantly gave permission at the last moment citing the second wave of the coronavirus as the reason. Barriers and containers placed across the city to restrict party workers from reaching the venue were only partially removed on the day of the rally. It would make perfect sense to disallow such a gathering given the rapid increase in positivity rate of Covid-19 in the past month had the government itself not held similar public gatherings a few weeks back when cases were on the rise as well. That there was not even a comment, let alone any effort to contain the massive funeral procession for TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi in Lahore by the Punjab Government smacks of hypocrisy.
There is no indication from the government that it wants to mend fences with the opposition despite there being a host of national and international issues faced by the country that requires consensus building to address effectively. Such a conciliatory narrative has to come from the very top but Prime Minister Imran Khan instead insists that he will not give any NRO to the opposition and will ‘put them all behind bars’.