By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, Dec 13 (IANS) Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan appointing political ally Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a man labelled by him as a jihadi (an Islamic militant) in the past, as country’s Interior Minister is being seen as a desperate attempt to counter the 11-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) opposition alliance which is all set to mount another fierce attack on the ruling government with its Lahore ‘jalsa’ (rally) on Sunday.
A motormouth, and a cigar chomper, Awami Muslim League Chief Rashid commenced work straight away accusing PDM of spreading anarchy in the country even as the opposition leader Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president Maryam Nawaz said that the Lahore jalsa would be the “final nail in the Imran Khan government’s coffin”.
Rashid said it is the opposition which will be sent packing on Sunday.
“If you think that Prime Minister Imran Khan would be removed due to your rally in Lahore, then make sure that he is not going anywhere,” the Interior Minister said in his maiden news conference while inviting PDM for talks.
At the same time, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has recovered from Covid-19, was holding talks with Maryam at Jati Umrah, the ancestral village of the Sharif family in Lahore, on Friday.
“They are requesting us not to take out a long march and not to resign from the assembly. Also, this time around, such measures will not work,” said Maryam adding that people of Pakistan are struggling badly at the moment with flour price touching 90 PKR per kg, sugar above Rs 100 and cost of gas and electricity increasing alarmingly.
Pakistani media reported that Maryam is braced for aar ya paar’ i.e. do or die’ e a line of action that Fazlur Rehman had decided pretty earlier.
“The government is doing all what falls within its administrative domain to stop the opposition from managing a big show at Minar-e-Pakistan. Additional police force has been called to the city; participants of a PML-N bike rally have been booked; and shipping containers are being moved to block roads within the city and seal its entry points,” the Express Tribune said in an editorial today.
It is here that Khan wants Rashid to take control with things deteriorating fast.
“The Interior Ministry works very closely with the establishment for obvious reasons. It commands law enforcement and investigation agencies like Rangers, Islamabad Police, FIA and Frontier Constabulary. The Interior Mnister has traditionally been someone who the establishment is comfortable with, and vice versa… With the opposition breathing down the government’s neck and threatening a long march to Islamabad, and with Shahzad Akbar hamstrung by the IHC judgement, an elected, active, trusted, and establishment-friendly interior minister was needed. Sheikh Rashid fits the bill,” Fahd Husain, Dawnes resident editor in Islamabad, wrote on Saturday.
It is, however, highly doubtful that Rashid would actually “fit the bill” given the habit of shooting his mouth off.
Last year, while being the Railways Minister, he had predicted a full-blown war between Pakistan and India. A few months ago, he had even boasted of Pakistan having “perfect” weapons to target India.
“We have very calculated weapons which are small and perfect. Our weapons will save Muslim lives and will only target regions. Pakistan range now even includes Assam,” he said in an interview to a Pakistani channel.
After his appointment on Friday, a clip from the past featuring Khan in which the cricketer-turned politician had accused Sheikh Rashid of running a jihadist training camp, has also gone viral on social media platforms.
In another old clip gone viral, Khan, while sitting next to Rashid during a TV debate, said that he would never become like the latter.
A perfect example of foes-turned-friends but it is a long and difficult road ahead for the PTI government.
After the Lahore jalsa on Sunday, PDM is getting ready to hold the “biggest march in the country’s history” in Islamabad.
“Imran should take stock of the situation and resign without further delay. He should accept the decision of the masses and step down,” said Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)
By Ateet Sharma