Pakistan is bracing for another bout of uncertainty as November comes to an end, with the brinkmanship that started with Independence Day still not having concluded. The Tahirul Qadri-led PAT and the PTI of Imran Khan rushed to the capital in mid-August and promised to lay siege with millions of protesters and create massive problems for the leadership, with the sole dream of overthrowing the regime. Neither happened.
The rebels could not gather the millions they had called and despite the disturbance caused in parliament, federal buildings and state television offices, the Nawaz government didn’t blink. On the contrary, parliament stood behind the civilian government and the military did not move to overthrow the regime.
The dharna by the PAT and the ‘containerisation’ of the twin cities did create some issues, but it did not shake the government. Finally, the PAT packed up its tents and walked away with the pledge to contest elections when they take place, while Imran Khan moved to other cities to hold rallies with the sole aim of keeping his party together and spreading the notion of its victimhood. The relations between two cousins have become strained in the meanwhile.
Imran sent en bloc resignations of his members in the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies of Sindh and Punjab to deepen the crisis but has now started on-again, off-again negotiations with the government.
Now Mr Khan is packing new steam to strike at the national capital by the end of the month while giving signals that he is willing to talk to the government through his team to break the impasse. The Nawaz government doesn’t look eager to start the negotiations while an anti-terrorism court has issued warrants of arrest for both Mr Khan and Mr Qadri. With all these power games and the brinkmanship, the main issues of governance and institutional reform are on hold.
The PTI knows that it has failed in its objective to push the government out through playing the game that was in vogue in the 1990s. It needs to retract itself from the minefield it has thrown itself in. The issue of holding fair elections will be addressed through electoral reforms in collaboration with and not in opposition to other parties. For that to happen, the PTI needs to be back in parliament and not outside it. It needs to work with other parties in order to create electoral laws, mechanisms and machinery to make that happen. All parties need to go back to the drawing board to deliver to the people in terms of their legislative and governance performance.
The Nawaz government must not take the recent Supreme Court decision on appointments to public enterprises as a carte blanche to pack national institutions with cronies. It should realise that it is the government and cannot act like an opposition. It must engage with the PTI and bring it back to parliament. Keeping Imran Khan outside parliament will be more harmful for the system than keeping him within parliament. The PML-N should also stop making incinerating accusations, like claiming that the PTI is working with terrorist groups. People will not believe such claims. If the government has any evidence, it should proscribe the party, instead of making silly accusations. The PPP, the PML-N and the PTI are ruling parties and the people expect all of them to work diligently to make Pakistan work rather than planning marathons of brinkmanship.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2014.
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