Confrontation again

Published January 15, 2015
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan (L), Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (C) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Tahirul Qadri (R). — Agencies/file
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan (L), Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (C) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Tahirul Qadri (R). — Agencies/file

It proved to be the shortest of hiatuses. Even in the immediate aftermath of the Peshawar school carnage, there were questions about just how long the pause in the long-running feud between the PML-N and PTI/PAT could last.

Now, the country knows the answer: less than a month. When the PTI unilaterally called off its anti-government protests, the rulers had an opportunity to end the long-running crisis by constituting a high-powered commission to investigate PTI allegations of fraud and malfeasance in the May 2013 general election.

But the PML-N did not take the initiative and soon enough the quarrelling restarted. The PTI claimed the PML-N was reneging on its promises; the PML-N claimed the PTI kept shifting the goalposts and expanding its demands.

Read: PTI announces 'dharna convention' on January 18

Neither side seemed particularly concerned that the most urgent issue — developing a coherent, workable plan to combat militancy and extremism — was suffering as a result of the squabbling.

It was also only a matter of time before the supporting cast also became involved. Sure enough, and seemingly on cue, the PAT has announced that it will restart its own protests against the government a day before the PTI will re-congregate near Constitution Avenue in Islamabad.

At this point, six months since the PTI and PAT launched their Islamabad campaign to oust the government, there is little new to be said about the individual culpability of the major protagonists.

By now, the PML-N should have notified the formation of a high-powered commission to investigate alleged electoral fraud in May 2013 and completed the process of electoral reforms. That neither of those steps have been taken is the result of the PML-N’s recalcitrance.

What after all could the PTI’s legitimate complaints be had a high-powered, manifestly independent and substantively empowered investigation commission been formed by the government? Surely, pressure would be on the PTI to accept such a commission and not insist on its own tailored version of one.

Also read: PAT to relaunch protest campaign on 17th

Similarly, the process of electoral reforms did not have to become an issue to be sorted out privately between the PML-N and the PTI and could have been entrusted to parliament in substance and not only in form.

Yet, for all the PML-N does wrong, the PTI manages to set new lows in terms of a focus on the parochial. Post-Peshawar, the PTI could have used its demonstrable ability to shape the national political discourse to focus on the militancy threat.

Instead, the party appears to have chosen to do the bare minimum — support military courts, make perfunctory suggestions to improve security in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — and then immediately return to its politics of protest. When more was needed and expected, the PTI once again has chosen to disappoint and under-deliver.

It is a vain hope that the imminent return to the politics of confrontation will be brief.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2015

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