THERE has been no let-up in the opposition’s campaign against the PTI government, and going by the latest jalsa in Larkana, neither is there any plan of relenting. For all its varied viewpoints and differences, as well as the dissensions within — such as the rift in JUI-F ranks — the 11-party PDM coalition appears firm on a single-point agenda — sending the ruling PTI home.
The speech of former president Asif Ali Zardari in Larkana indicated a willingness to go to any lengths to increase pressure on the government to quit. While the alliance is struggling to create a consensus on the proposed move to resign from the assemblies and organise an indefinite sit-in in Islamabad, it isn’t backing off on its declaration to march on the capital if Prime Minister Imran Khan doesn’t resign and fresh elections are not announced before the Jan 31 deadline. That could compound the political crisis in the country and create a volatile situation lasting for weeks or months. Can the PDM attain its objective in the end? It remains to be seen. But many political commentators have played down the chances of success.
Ever since it launched its campaign, the PDM has been justifiably criticised for organising public rallies in the midst of increasing Covid-19 infections in the country. Perhaps, with the approaching Senate elections, the opposition parties fear that the PTI could further squeeze the political space by tightening the accountability noose once it gets a majority in the upper house. Such fears aren’t without reason.
The way the government has pursued its anti-corruption agenda that has largely spared its own supporters but targeted its opponents has contributed to the coming together of a divided opposition. Although Mr Khan had some time ago stated he was ready to talk to the opposition parties in parliament, his administration doesn’t appear keen on taking forward this rather vague offer. Instead, the government has toughened its confrontationist stance, repeatedly declaring that the opposition would not get an ‘NRO’ and pushing NAB to speed up the process of prosecuting the opposition politicians.
The disdain the PTI has shown for parliament and the manner in which it has tried to crush its opponents during the past two and a half years have spawned fears that the ruling elite could be on their way to imposing one-party rule in the country. Such attempts have been made in the past too but have not succeeded.
The best way out of the current political impasse lies in addressing the concerns of the opposition and accommodating its demands. If the government thinks it would appear weak to its supporters by holding an open dialogue with the PDM, it should make backchannel contact with the PDM leadership. At the end of the day, it is always the sitting government that loses if there is a prolonged stand-off with the opposition.
WHERE security issues are concerned, it is clear that Balochistan — for years in the grip of separatist and sectarian terrorism — is still not at peace. While the separatist insurgency may be in a low phase, issues remain as militants retain their ability to stage attacks, specifically targeting symbols of the state. On Saturday night, at least seven FC personnel were martyred in the province’s Harnai district, with the military’s media wing saying “anti-state forces” were responsible. The Harnai attack may well be a reprisal to the killing of around 10 militants in Awaran earlier this month. Meanwhile, in October separatists had targeted a convoy in Ormara in which several soldiers and security guards were martyred. Though the frequency of attacks by separatist outfits may be down, these groups still pose a significant security threat to Balochistan, which means that the authorities need to scrutinise the situation and work out a new solution that can pacify the province.
One method is the militaristic one, where the security forces go after armed elements posing a threat to Balochistan’s peace. With external forces supporting these elements the security apparatus cannot let its guard down and must remain vigilant in order to thwart acts of terrorism. However, this alone won’t help. Other methods too must be employed to bring stability to Balochistan. For example, despite being a resource-rich province, the standard of life in Balochistan remains low, especially where health and education indicators are concerned. While the establishment says that sardars in the province have held up development — and this is true to a large extent — the fact is that successive governments in Pakistan have also done little to bring prosperity and development to all parts of Balochistan. This has given rise to genuine grievances amongst the Baloch, which have been exploited by inimical actors. Numerous administrations have talked about ‘packages’ for Balochistan, but these have failed to improve the lives of the ordinary Baloch. Therefore, to help eliminate violence from the province, a two-pronged strategy is needed. Firstly, the state must listen to moderate Baloch elements to help reach a political solution. Branding all those who fail to agree with the establishment’s viewpoint as traitors is not a productive approach. Secondly, the Baloch must see development on the ground — with schools, clinics, civic infrastructure in their towns and villages — so that they can be assured that the state cares about them and their children.