March in Pindi

Published November 26, 2022

WITH the chief’s appointment out of the way and the army intent on staying out of politics, the fight is now down to the two factions led by the PTI and the PML-N. Their new bout starts today, with the arrival of PTI chairman Imran Khan in Rawalpindi to resume leadership of his ‘long march’.

There are certain realities that both the PTI and the PML-N must not lose sight of. The fact is that the PTI currently has considerable public support and sympathies behind it, as evidenced by its recent successes in by-polls.

Provoking and antagonising that section of the citizenry will not get the PML-N more votes; instead, it will only worsen the polarisation and deepen societal divisions.

The PTI is also well within its constitutional rights if it wants to protest, march or place its demands before the public. Denying those rights risks creating some bad precedents — precedents that may one day be brought to bear on the PDM parties themselves.

The PTI, meanwhile, needs to understand that there are limits to what it can lawfully do. What it wants — early elections — is unlikely to be achieved through agitation alone. It should stop hoping for and seeking third-party intervention, and instead, sit down and negotiate what it wants with the PDM.

The best way to do that would be by returning to parliament. The two parties may find it in their own interests to reach a compromise. Meanwhile, the PTI and the establishment seem to have entered a tentative détente after the former accepted the PDM’s choice for army chief without fuss.

That arrangement will be put at risk if there is any miscalculation in the strategy adopted by either the PTI or the PML-N. If the government goes overboard, all eyes will turn to Rawalpindi, and questions will be raised about whether the violence had sanction from the army’s new leadership.

If the PTI steps out of line, it is unlikely to be treated charitably. It is one thing to challenge a chief on his way out and another to challenge someone with three years ahead of him.

After the chief’s appointment closed without incident, there is a chance for political temperatures to be brought down. To keep that hope alive, it is critical that the government handle the arrival of PTI marchers at its gates with great care.

The focus will be on the interior minister to see how he responds. Some of his past statements, especially those in which he appeared to relish the thought of tear-gassing protesters and unleashing police brutality on them, have been very disturbing.

Such tactics will not be condoned and should be out of the question, especially if used on citizens who are merely exercising their constitutional rights and not breaking any laws while doing so.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2022

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