Amid Lahore Shutdown, It Was Punjab Caretaker CM Who Came Under Fire, Not Nawaz Sharif
While former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was waiting to board his flight to Lahore from Abu Dhabi, he asked Askari to resign saying that a crackdown of this kind was not just Askari’s doing but “somebody forcing the government to take such action.”
File photo of Nawaz Sharif. (Reuters)
New Delhi: In what seems to be an unprecedented situation, Lahore was completely shut down on Friday ahead of the arrival of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam. The duo was arrested as soon as they touched base at the airport and transported to Islamabad Adiala Jail.
Scores of PML (N) supporters, including PM candidate Shahbaz Sharif, were stopped from entering the airport or even coming near to it. More than 350 of the party people were arrested, roads blocked and containers were placed on the streets to block movement.
Thousands of riot officers and other security officers were on duty. Mobile services were out and all those who could voice their opinion via WiFi said they had not seen this coming. And it all went down on one man and it was not Nawaz Sharif. It was Punjab caretaker CM Hassan Askari Rizvi.
While he was waiting to board his flight to Lahore from Abu Dhabi, Nawaz asked Askari to resign, saying that a crackdown of this kind was not just Askari’s doing but “somebody forcing the government to take such action.”
As per the functions of the caretaker government written in the Election Act 2017, the government is to remain non-controversial and impartial to all political parties. The Act further states that the caretaker is not to influence the elections nor be party to any action or incident that may eventually influence the polls. For many, however, Askari was leading in complete violation of the mandated code.
As of Saturday, Pakistan has only 11 days before it goes to polls. The campaigning for the same has so far been high octane. As Lahore turned into a fortress, a powerful suicide blast in Mastung killed more than 170 people and injured hundreds others. While leaders across the political spectrum condemned the attack, there was another similarity between most leaders.
On Friday, PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto, who is looking to take forward his mother Benazir Bhutto’s legacy this election, took to Twitter and said that the arrests of Nawaz and Maryam were on legal grounds, but questioned the arrest of PML-N workers. “Why is Lahore under siege? Right to peaceful protest is fundamental to democracy,” he added.
PTI chief Imran Khan, however, was criticized for his offensive against Nawaz. “Beginning to wonder why whenever Nawaz Sharif is in trouble, there is increasing tension along Pakistan’s borders and a rise in terrorist acts? Is it a mere coincidence?” he tweeted. His narrative was termed bizarre by many on Twitter.
Askari came under fire from Nawaz’s brother Shahbaz too. As his party people were getting arrested in huge numbers, Shahbaz wrote to Askari calling the arrests “illegal” and “the worst act of administration.”
He further went to the extent of calling the action a violation of the code of conduct as mentioned by the Election Commission. Askari, however, refused to slow down.
Shahbaz wasn’t the only one who wrote to Askari. Prominent academics wrote a joint letter asking Askari to resign considering the “appalling coercive actions of the Government of Punjab against the workers and supporters of PML(N).” The letter also shed light on reported incidents of intimidation, harassment and blackmail of the party’s candidates by the military intelligence agencies.
Asking Askari led caretaker government to stop targeting a particular party, to immediately release the political prisoners, lift the ban on holding rallies and to ensure that the military agencies didn’t interfere in the elections, the scholars said it was imperative for all political players to have the same playing field.
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