LAST weekend, quite remarkably, passed without incident. PTI chairman Imran Khan was able to conclude his long march peacefully, with a final show of power. He seems to have realised that there was little need for him to march into Islamabad for a confrontation with the PDM government, which in all likelihood would have entailed violence and clashes between his supporters and the police.
Instead, he played politics with the last card he holds — the dissolution of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab assemblies, along with the resignation of all remaining PTI lawmakers.
His threat, if it materialises, would require the Election Commission to hold by-elections on about two-thirds of all seats contested in a general election within a 60-day period. The idea behind it is that there would be little sense in having by-elections on that scale rather than simply calling a general election ahead of schedule.
It was Mr Khan’s best, perhaps only move considering the state of play.
With a new leadership taking over at GHQ, the potential benefits of extending the new chief some courtesy as he assumes command and giving him some space as he tries to steer his institution out of the political bog far outweigh the risks arising from a continuing confrontation.
The PTI chief may also have realised that the government is at risk of sinking itself with a blowout economic crisis thanks to flip-flopping economic policies and strategic failures in containing inflation.
Meanwhile, even though few believed that he will actually dissolve the assemblies, various analysts whose comments were carried in these pages described Mr Khan’s threat as a reminder to the establishment that the PTI remains relevant, still has leverage and, if its demands are ignored, can still make governance very messy if it so desires.
Still, the dissolution of provincial assemblies is a political challenge that must be dealt with politically.
Though the PDM parties have publicly scorned Mr Khan’s ‘underwhelming’ retreat from Islamabad’s gates, it is clear they are not taking him lightly. The wheels are already in motion to neutralise the PTI chairman’s stratagem through parliamentary means, such as pre-empting it with a motion of no-confidence, which may buy the government some time.
While these strategic plays from both sides are arguably better than street agitation and suppression by force, the PDM and PTI must realise that neither will get what they want if they keep fighting bitterly at every turn. It is important for the two factions to engage directly and chart a way forward.
It would, obviously, have been ideal if Mr Khan had returned to parliament to negotiate a political compromise with the ruling parties, but in the absence of such a move, perhaps the second-tier leadership from both sides can find a way to protect each side’s interests without further upsetting the table.
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2022