Although there is now a ceasefire between the state and the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) after clashes that saw deaths, injuries, hostage taking, destruction of public property and closure of entire cities, the PTI government has been left with a bloody nose. Its approach to the crisis is an excellent example of what not to do in such situations. What exactly was the federal government hoping would happen when three months back it agreed to bring the issue of the French Ambassador’s expulsion from the country for debate in the National Assembly and when the time came to make good on the promise, it arrested the leader of the TLP? During the two days of violence that ensued, the Punjab police took a beating on the streets, while Prime Minister Imran Khan, CM Punjab Usman Buzdar and Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed were nowhere to be found as the country gradually descended into an all-out civil war. Finally, when the government woke up to this reality, it banned the TLP under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a move that is four years too late, following which another day of violence and bloodshed continued. This gross mishandling of a sensitive matter has forced the government to completely capitulate as it has decided to re-engage in negotiation with an organization it banned not two days ago. It has released TLP chief Saad Rizvi, set free detained members of the party who should instead be brought to book and a National Assembly session was especially called yesterday to discuss the removal of France’s ambassador from the country, a debate that will now continue on Friday.
PM Imran Khan in his address to the nation cut a sorry figure, that of a defeated man unsure over how to deal with the TLP. He boasted how no one knew Western culture better than him, a statement that is not only demonstrably inaccurate but also unrelated to the problem at hand. The only redeeming and calming aspect about his speech was a clear denial over sending the French ambassador packing as it would only hurt Pakistan, not France. The events that transpired over the past week are a sign of things to come as others will slowly but surely adopt the TLP’s playbook and make their attempt to successfully challenge the so-called ‘writ of the state’.