Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's government was facing the heat after his law minister indicated that Islamabad was considering taking over the administrative affairs of Karachi through a little-known constitutional provision.
Tensions had already been brewing between the federal government and Sindh over the formation of a 'strategic committee' for the mismanaged metropolis by the prime minister, with the province, ruled by Opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), feeling that Islamabad was encroaching on its turf.
Matters took a dramatic turn on Wednesday when Law Minister Farogh Naseem said that Karachi's worsening situation demanded the federal government play its role in resolving people's problems without imposing governor's rule or emergency.
He indicated that the centre may take over Karachi's administrative affairs under Article 149 of the Constitution, the Dawn newspaper reported.
Although the minister later clarified that he was quoted out of context, the statement elicited a sharp reaction from PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who accused the Khan government of trying to "occupy" Karachi, Pakistan's largest city.
Talking to the media on Thursday, Naseem said, "Article 149 (4) does not talk about governor's rule. The article can provide direction to the central and provincial governments."
Naseem, a leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), said, on the proposal of Article 149 (4) application, the headlines in newspapers that the federation wanted to take administrative charge of Karachi were wrong.
"Some people have made me a hero while others a villain in Pakistan. I have never talked about making Karachi a province as I am a son of Sindh. I don’t need a certificate [to prove it]," Naseem, under attack from the Opposition parties, said.
Facing the heat, the government fielded Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, Firdous Ashiq Awan.
She said the government of Prime Minister Khan was working on agenda to introduce reforms in institutions to improve their performance.
She categorically stated that the Pakistan Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) government of Khan neither intends to impose emergency in Karachi nor topple the Sindh government.
She said people of Karachi gave the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf votes for change and PTI wanted to resolve issues like drinking water, sewage and garbage of the city.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Friday also assured agitated Opposition members in the National Assembly that the centre would not interfere in the workings of the Sindh government.
Qureshi assured the lawmakers from Sindh that the federal government would not let any harm comes in the way of provincial autonomy.
Criticising, PPP Chairman Bilawal Zardari, Qureshi said it was the beginning of his political career and he should be careful about what he says.
"I do not have doubts about Bilawal's patriotism, but he should exercise caution while speaking on such matters," he said on the 30-year-old Bilawal.
Qureshi said every Sindhi will stand by Pakistan.
Meanwhile, addressing a press conference in Karachi, PPP leader Raza Rabbani and Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani said that talk of invoking Article 149 in Karachi would have grave consequences.
The two PPP leaders said the Constitution only allowed the federal government to advise the provincial authorities under Article 149, and talks of federal government intervening directly in Karachi were illegal.
PPP leader Khursheed Shah said the law minister's comments regarding Article 149 were a conspiracy against the federation.
"The article is an old desire of MQM and the current government is getting stuck in this web. The government needs to understand what Farogh Naseem is trying to do," he said, adding: "Devastation will spread in Karachi with the minister's remarks."
He said that the Supreme Court of Pakistan should take suo motu notice of the law minister's comments on Article 149.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said that Foreign Minister Qureshi had commented without listening to Bilawal's statement, adding that the PPP chairperson had criticised the concepts of "Sindhu desh" and "Pakhtunistan".
Karachi is the capital of Sindh province. It is the most populous city in Pakistan. According to the census of 2017, the port city had a population of over 14.9 million.