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Crisis defused

Updated November 02, 2016

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A RAPIDLY deteriorating situation has been salvaged — for now. It should not have taken direct intervention by the Supreme Court to defuse a grave crisis and have the PML-N and PTI behave like responsible national political parties once again, but in troubled times all sensible inputs ought to be welcomed.

There is further reason to welcome the Supreme Court intervention: a substantive, independent inquiry into the Panama Papers revelations is now imminent, with the government and PTI given a chance first to present mutually acceptable terms of reference, failing which the court itself will impose the ToR for a prospective judicial commission. That is how it should be.

At the intersection of the law and politics, all political actors must submit to the authority of the law and its final interpreters. If wrongdoing has been committed, it must be legally established and legally punished. If the country seeks a different political direction, it must come through the ballot box. A democratic system based on the rule of law is the only way forward.

The correct way, however, will necessarily depend on some introspection by the protagonists in the latest crisis.

The PML-N governments in Punjab and at the centre are led by a coterie of vastly experienced politicians. A three-term prime minister, a four-term chief minister, senior federal ministers who have won multiple constituency elections — in terms of electoral, democratic experience, the PML-N’s leadership is second to none. And yet there is a strain of authoritarianism and anti-democratic sentiment in the PML-N leadership that is visible all too often.

The PTI’s threat to lock down the federal capital may have been illegal and undemocratic, but nothing can justify the coercive and rough measures the PML-N took to try and thwart the PTI’s plan. Using the might of the executive and the blunt force of civilian law-enforcement against political opponents campaigning essentially for action against perceived corruption is not the kind of democratic rule this country needs or can find acceptable.

As the chief custodians of the democratic project in this parliament, the PML-N needs to uphold systemic values that go beyond parochial interests.

The failings of the PML-N, however, are mirrored, perhaps exceeded, by the PTI.

Unacceptable as the government’s response has been, the PTI has implicitly — and on some occasions, explicitly — used the threat of violence and anti-democratic intervention to try to bend the government to its will. That needs to stop.

The PTI must make it clear to the public, to the Supreme Court and to the government that it intends to respect the judicial process that is to unfold and that it will accept a verdict from the highest court in the land.

There should be no street protests and agitation while the court and an inquiry commission carry out their work. Democracy means accepting due process too.

Published in Dawn November 2nd, 2016