There is a cold war raging in Pakistan between centre and the provincial Punjab government. And the biggest beneficiary to this war seem to be the religious extremists who are being let off the hook as Islamabad and Lahore fight over how terrorism in Pakistan’s largest province must be tackled.
On one side is the President Asif Ali Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party, which is represented in Punjab by the Governor, Salman Taseer.
On the other is the provincial chief minister Shabaz Sharif of the PML-N party and his supporters. So far between the two, there seems to be no coordination over how to fight the rise in terrorist activity in the province. “The Punjab government does not listen to us,” says interior minister Rehman Malik.
A recent ISI report that was leaked to the media suggested that the Punjab government was “least cooperative” in aiding federal agencies as they nabbed extremists.
They seem to argue over everything. Shabaz Sharif took exception to the term “Punjabi Taliban,” a reference to the rise of extremists in the poverty stricken South Punjab area.
The centre sees nothing wrong with the term.
Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says that the PML-N, which is a right of centre party, continues to enjoy links with exremist groups.
But the realisation that terrorism is gaining a foothold in Punjab may have woken the provincial government from its slumber.
This week Malik announced that the two sides “were in complete agreement” over how to tackle the Punjabi Taliban. He alluded to a military operation in South Punjab to flush out extremists and close down their training camps.
Officials warn, however, that the delay in carrying out such an operation has meant that many of the terrorists are now making their way out of the area, primarily to safe houses in Karachi.
In all this, the Punjab governor, a Zardari appointee, seems to be charting his own course.
An avid Twitter devotee, he continues to post snide remarks about the Sharif brothers on Twitter.
His latest: “The WWF should replace the Panda with Nawaz Sharif as its symbol. In Pakistan, he is seen as a fast becoming extinct — as a politician.”