THE new announcement by the Pakistan Democratic Movement that it will participate in the upcoming by-polls is a promising indicator of its members’ ability to show flexibility for the sake of the alliance — and a sign that the government should not take the PDM threat lightly.

That the 11-party alliance will contest the by-elections on two National Assembly seats and six provincial assembly seats despite some of the members expressing reservations earlier shows that, while differences of opinion exist on some key issues, the PDM has the resolve to stay together and persist in its opposition to the government.

The differences are obvious. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a hardliner with nothing to lose; Maryam Nawaz is reeling from the government onslaught on her family and party; and the PPP is hedging its bets. But the common goal, as evidenced by the PDM chairman’s speech on Friday, is that these parties will no longer tolerate the interference of the security establishment in matters of civilian governance. While the various members of the alliance use words of varying degrees of severity when speaking of this alleged meddling — some harsh and others less so — the messages being sent to both the government and security establishment are from one stage and platform.

The PDM has several hurdles to overcome and critical issues to resolve in the coming days — resignations and the Senate elections being the key challenges — and its future will be determined by the alliance’s ability to build consensus in a politically uncertain environment. But the movement’s common goal thus far has been a unifying factor.

If the alliance manages to stay together and move forward even with the coming challenges, the government and the security establishment must not take their demands and warnings lightly. The threatened long march, if it materialises, can trigger a season of dread. It was not too long ago that the country, especially the citizens and administration in the capital, were both fixated with and paralysed by Mr Khan’s anti-government dharna. Although his key demands were not met and the dharna was eventually called off, the prolonged sit-in made governance and security a huge challenge. The political uncertainty was palpable and its effects on the economy as well as the message to the international community were significant.

A PDM-led long march, given the number of member parties and the size of their rallies thus far, will be a thorn in the government’s side. Depending on what kind of power show the alliance can pull off and how long it will be sustained for, it is not too early to think about which side will prevail.

For Mr Khan to think this is going to fizzle out and go away is naive. In this environment, the government must end its posturing and reflect on the fallout of an upcoming crisis. Dialogue is a wise next step.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2021

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