Unbearable polarisation among extremes of political spectrum ’By Nusrat Javed

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Without dealing even with one item, put on the day’s agenda, the national assembly had to be adjourned Monday afternoon for the lack of quorum. During off-the-record conversation with this correspondent, one minister tried hard to spin the story that government’s handlers of the parliamentary business had “planned” it.

Doing this, they seemingly prevented chaotic scenes, which events since early morning of Monday were bound to trigger in house proceedings. I have doubts, though. It was obvious that an overwhelming majority of the government MNAs did not feel motivated to attend the Monday sitting of the national assembly. Many of them had even not cared returning to Islamabad after the weekend break.

The government could not elude the fiery and accusatory speeches in the Senate, however, where the opposition senators comprise an overwhelming majority. At the outset of its Monday sitting, Ms. Sherry Rehman and Raza Rabbani of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) vigorously took up the issue of Captain (Retd) Safdar’s arrest in Karachi and the flood of enigmatic stories it kept generating throughout the day. Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N sounded more aggressive and insulting than he usually does. The government representatives felt baffled with their onslaught and miserably failed to find appropriate means for dealing with it.

Along with his wife, Maryam Nawaz, Safdar had gone to Karachi for attending a public rally, the recently formed alliance of all the opposition parties, excluding Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), was to hold there Sunday evening. Immediately after landing at the airport early afternoon, he decided to straight drive to the Mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam, with a large cavalcade of dedicated workers of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).

While offering Fateha (prayers) at the mausoleum, Maryam Nawaz maintained the required solemnity. But her husband could not control the rage boiling within him for the past many months. He furiously began chanting a slogan, considered almost like a war cry of Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N these days. The video recording of his emotional exploding took no time to go viral on social media. Even some PML-N supporters judged it ‘inappropriate’ and out of place.

But the diehard loyalists of Imran Khan feverishly began referring to a law, which prescribes fine and even jail sentence for a person, allegedly violating the decorum required to be maintained while being at the tomb of Pakistan’s founder. Eventually, by writing a tweet, Imran Ismael, the Governor of Sindh also asked the Inspector General of Sindh Police to invoke the same law for arresting the son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif, the three-time prime minister of Pakistan.

A provincial government is exclusively responsible to maintain law and order as per the written clauses of our constitution. And the PPP-led Government of Sindh did not appear willing to arrest and later prosecute Safdar. It could not disregard the reality that Safdar and his wife were, after all, its “guests.” They had rather been invited by the youthful PPP Chairman to attend the PDM rally. Its reluctance didn’t help in the end.

Maryam Nawaz, shocked and surprised many by announcing through a tweet that in the early hours of Monday morning, a team of Karachi police allegedly “broke into the room” she had been spending the night with her husband and he was taken away without showing any warrants. To prove the story of “break in”, she also posted some pictures on her Twitter account. This surely created the feel of “midnight knocks,” associated with totalitarian regimes.

Far more astounding were the claims of some provincial ministers after her tweet. Talking to media they forcefully kept insisting that their government had nothing to do with Safdar’s arrest. Elements, operating above and beyond their control, were solely responsible for it.

Mohammad Zubair, a former Governor of Sindh and currently a highly trusted aide of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, went a notch up in the same context by claiming that Murad Ali Shah, the Chief Minister of Sindh, had told him, categorically, that the Inspector General of Police was “picked up” from his home late Sunday night and he was “forced to sign on the arrest warrants of Safdar,” again by elements allegedly operating above and beyond the control of the provincial government.

Some federal ministers and spokespersons of the Imran government viciously mocked and belied these claims. They rather kept ‘praising’ the Sindh Police for executing the law, ensuring the sanctity of Quaid’s mausoleum. Their supporters on social media also steered their spin-doctoring energy to build up the story that the Sindh government was cunningly promoting a deceptive story. It lacked the courage of owning the arrest of Safdar for “obvious reasons”. But the damage had been done. Its “double speak and hypocritical behavior” would miserably fail to sustain the illusion of its “fake love” for the PDM. This spin could not take off.

While staying put in Karachi, Maryam Nawaz and her team kept claiming that both Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had personally phoned her to express total ignorance and disassociation regarding the arrest of Capt (Retd) Safdar. She was even persuaded to move to their home, until the matter was resolved. And she preferred to believe them.

The story told by the Sindh government and owned by Asif Ali Zardari and his son sounds plausible anyway. Sindhis have a strong tradition of hospitality. They consider ill treatment of their guests as if violating their ‘honor’. This feeling turns more intense and acute when it comes to real or alleged pain endured by a female ‘guest.’

There is not doubt that Capt. (Retd) Safdar recklessly disregarded the rules of propriety during his presence at the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam. But you can hardly call it ‘sacrilegious’ to the extent deserving a three-year sentence in jail. The PML-N loyalists also attempted to underplay it by flooding the social media with visuals, where Imran Khan was also shown visiting the same mausoleum in “far more inappropriate manner.”

It is extremely difficult to maintain ‘neutrality’ during the heat of viciously waged war of conflicting narratives and self-serving spins. Without considering the merits of the case established against Capt. (Retd) Safdar and wasting time in finding out who actually ordered and executed his arrest, one has to acknowledge the overkill, recklessly displayed in this matter.

Capt. (Retd) Safdar was staying with his wife at a famous hotel of Karachi. Equipped with warrants of his arrest, the law enforcers could easily ask him from the reception desk to come downstairs; he would surely not have climbed out of the window to escape. There was no need to “break in” the room he was staying with his wife.

The manner, he had been arrested, could also have triggered enraged agitation in Karachi. Even if the PPP had stayed away, it had all the potential to attract a massive crowd. Lest you forget, Jamiat-e-Ulma-e-Islam (JUI) of Maulana Fazlur Rehman has huge number of dedicated supporters living in this town. These supporters had already proven their energy and strength during the PDM rally of Sunday evening. In the same town, Pashtun and Baloch nationalists also savor multiple and crowded pockets of influence and they feel close affinity with the PML-N these days.

We rather deserved a sigh of relief after getting the news that eventually Safdar had been released on bail. It did help preventing a head on show down in Karachi, which could also have led to street fights among diehard supporters and opponents of Imran Khan.

Despite the timely prevention of potentially ugly scenes, the trigger-happy manner of Safdar’s arrest is certainly set to further intensify the already unbearable polarisation among the extremes of our political spectrum.