In recent meetings, including Friday’s top-level meeting with the party’s senior leaders, the issue of the ongoing Rangers operation in Karachi and PPP’s concerns regarding the paramilitary force came under discussion, sources told Dawn.
The government, a ruling party insider said, wasn’t opposed to action against politicians in cases where there was hard evidence to prove their connivance with terrorist or militant organisations.
However, he said, “The PM is against the arrest of politicians on mere corruption charges because the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) are fully empowered to deal with such crimes.”
When asked, he said the government was in touch with the PPP leadership and had conveyed to them that the paramilitary force would move only against those politicians found to be directly or indirectly linked to terrorists.
Following in the footprints of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had pledged to uphold the same mantra of political reconciliation for the greater good of democracy in the country, as was espoused by the PPP during its term in power.
Arrest of Uzair Baloch, Dr Asim Hussain poses threat to PML-N-PPP ties
However, the pace at which events have been unfolding in recent months has made it difficult for the ruling party chief to keep this broad political consensus intact, sources close to the PM’s Office said.
The Sharif brothers, both Nawaz and Shahbaz, have expressed their concern over the increasing confrontation with the PPP-led Sindh government in closed-door meetings and have been heard asking their lieutenants to keep things at a manageable level.
But with Mr Zardari in virtual self-exile since June of last year, Dr Asim Hussain in prison and now the arrest of Uzair Baloch, a Lyari gangster having ties with the PPP, a party office-bearer said, “there are bound to be more sleepless nights for the PML-N leadership”.
It was no secret that the federal government wasn’t happy with the treatment being meted out to Dr Asim Hussain. After meeting the PM alongside Sindh CM Qaim Ali Shah, Sindh Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah has repeatedly said on the record that the federal government also had reservations over Dr Hussain’s arrest. Nobody from the government has so far contradicted Mr Shah’s claim.
Information Minister Senator Pervaiz Rashid, who is the PM’s official spokesperson, wasn’t available for comment.
Apart from the occasional hiccups – such as governor’s rule in Punjab and the Memogate affair – the PML-N had maintained a good working relationship with the PPP during the latter’s stint in power from 2008 to 2013. Political observers have even said there apparently seems to be an unwritten agreement between the two that they will not pull the rug out from under the other’s feet.
In response to a question, the PML-N office-bearer said that following Uzair Baloch’s arrest, more PPP leaders may be booked in the days to come, which would definitely hurt the much-touted political reconciliation between both parties.
Unsurprisingly, many PPP leaders have already started comparing recent actions with the much-maligned politics of the 1990s when both parties repeatedly worked to unseat the other from power. Things are now at a stage where senior PPP leader Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, on Friday, called for the formation of a ‘national government’.
When asked if Mr Baloch’s arrest was made public to derail the war of words that has been raging between Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, a ruling party legislator said, “A considerable majority within the party believes that Chaudhry Nisar – whose ministry controls the deployment of Rangers in Sindh – is behind the decision.”
He recalled that when the PTI dharna was at its peak the PM had to virtually apologise to the PPP after Chaudhry Nisar clashed with Senator Ahsan during a joint sitting of the parliament.
However, the lawmaker said that some within the ruling party thought that the decision to make Mr Baloch’s arrest public should be viewed in the context of the army chief’s decision not to seek an extension and the meetings he held in Karachi over the last week. After one of these meetings, ISPR had said the Karachi operation would be taken to the next level.
“Whatever the reason behind Mr Baloch’s formal arrest, it will only add to the problems of the Sharif brothers. Imran Khan is already after them, now the PPP will also come out into the open with their criticism of the government, both inside parliament and outside,” said a former PML-N senator. “With just two years to go this is the last thing the PM would have wanted.”
A retired federal secretary who has been involved in policing Karachi, said, “There is no doubt that Uzair Baloch was a hardened criminal, a gangster and a murderer. But if he is to be used to push PPP against the wall, it will be very unfortunate.”
Capitalising on the tensions between the PPP and PML-N, the PTI has already started demanding a similar action in the PML-N ruled province of Punjab.
In a press statement, PTI information secretary Nameeul Haq said on Sunday that law-enforcement agencies should also take “similar action... against criminals who allegedly operate with impunity under the protection of the Punjab government.”