THE Pakistan Democratic Alliance says it will be stepping up its campaign against the PTI government in the coming days and has announced it will start its long march to Islamabad at the end of January.

PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman made this announcement on Monday a day after the alliance held its final jalsa in Lahore. The much-hyped rally attracted a sizeable crowd at the Minar-i-Pakistan though it was not a ‘game changer’ as many were claiming. Regardless of the numbers in attendance, the tone and tenor of the speeches made by the opposition leaders was incendiary.

Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maulana Fazlur Rehman took turns targeting the establishment as well as Prime Minister Imran Khan. In response, the government has poured scorn on the Lahore jalsa and termed it a ‘flop’.

The coming few weeks offer an uncertain scenario. What is more certain is that the two sides are refusing to relent. If anything, the intransigence has increased, and it is fairly clear that both sides have dug in their heels. PDM leaders said categorically on Monday the time for negotiations was over and they would not speak with anyone, including the establishment.

Government ministers on their part spent the day ridiculing the opposition and reiterating their position that the government was here to stay. The environment therefore is ripe for further escalation. If the PDM decides to start agitation in various forms for the next few weeks, the government will be tempted to use force. This could lead to violence which can easily spiral out of control. If matters are not resolved in the coming days, and if some middle way is not found before the PDM starts marching towards Islamabad, options for a solution will start slamming shut for all parties concerned.

By not announcing anything specific at this stage, the PDM might be buying time to find some common ground. This time should be well utilised. The government should therefore de-escalate its rhetoric and offer some dialogue to the opposition. So far the official position is that the government is ready and willing to hold a dialogue in parliament. This needs to be elaborated further so that, if nothing else, the political temperature is brought down.

The opposition for its part should also ensure that whatever activity it resorts to does not spill over into violence. It is understandable that both sides have to keep one eye on their constituencies and position themselves for political advantage, but this too must be done in a calculated way. Even disorder should be managed. Saner minds should sense the opportunity that exists before the drums of the long march and resignations start beating loudly. Negotiations are the only way to find an opening out of this logjam. They should be given a chance.

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2020

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