The government is responsible for keeping the peace
The appearance of ex-President and PPP co-Chairman Asif Zardari and PPP co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari before the NAB Combined Investigation Team in Rawalpindi should have been preliminary, as despite an hour and a half of questioning the team still gave the father and son a questionnaire to be completed in 10 days. However, the appearance became a test of strength for the government, because the PPP had given a nationwide call for workers to appear before the NAB offices to show solidarity to the leaders. Admittedly, the crowd that gathered was not very large, but what it lacked in numbers, it made up in enthusiasm. The crowd wanted not just to hear the leaders address them, but it also wanted to go right up to the NAB gates. This led to a clash, and the result was dozens of workers arrested, with the PPP claiming 200 were.
The PPP tried to explain the absence of a large crowd by later saying that it was meant for Rawalpindi workers alone. Even by Rawalpindi standards, the call did not make waves. Someone seems to have misunderstood the dynamic of nationwide calls. They are not spontaneous, and need close monitoring by a central authority. It is precisely the poorness of the show that should give the PTI pause, rather than the snide chortling shown by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s tweet saying that only a tonga’s worth of people gathered. The PTI might feel that it did well in Rawalpindi district in the last election, but it should remember that the PPP’s current contest is not with it, but the state machinery.
Both parties also need to consider whether NAB offices are the right arenas for partisan contests. The PPP leaders have decided to contest the cases against them, as they should, yet their claim that accountability is being used as a political tool against them cannot be ignored. Ultimately, parties have to contest elections, and that is their proper arena for contesting against one another. However, in the final analysis, it is the sitting government’s responsibility to ensure that opposition parties are not driven against the wall. Without condoning illegality, it must avoid excuses for violence.