WITH so many U-turns under his belt, it was hardly surprising when on Saturday, PTI chairman Imran Khan decided to walk back his previous day’s offer of talks to the PDM, saying that his message had been ‘misunderstood’. On Friday, he had said he was ready to sit with the ruling alliance and set a date for polls, failing which the Punjab and KP assemblies would be dissolved. The former prime minister now appears resolved on the dissolution of the assemblies this month. However, there is greater sense in his previous suggestion of talking to the government, even if to settle on an election date. Engaging with the PTI is something that the ruling coalition government itself should not be averse to as this is the only way to craft a mutually acceptable political path.
Indeed, both the opposition and the ruling coalition face challenges. For instance, after having exhausted virtually all his options, including street protests, how much more pressure can Mr Khan exert on his political rivals to call early elections? At the other end, government officials have indicated that elections will be held as per schedule. But realistically speaking, with the economy in such terrible shape and no signs of the political uncertainty ending, the option of early elections is not something to be dismissed out of hand. True, Mr Khan’s hard and unyielding tone would put off most political rivals, but it is time to take a look at the situation for what it really is.
Politicians in democracies across the world attack one another, and use every constitutional and legal option to force their opponents out of power. But they do so while remaining a part of the system and without shutting the door on negotiations. They are aware that the solution to every issue lies in engaging with one another. They also know that there is no room for progress without give and take. There is little doubt that Mr Khan is the most popular national leader at the moment as the massive crowds at his anti-government rallies across Pakistan and his success in by-elections show. But if he hasn’t achieved his goal of early polls it is largely because he never engaged with his opponents. There are many in his own camp too who are against the drastic measures he has decided on. He would be well advised to heed wiser counsel, and sit across the table with the coalition government, without setting prior conditions, in order to genuinely seek a solution. At the same time, the ruling parties should also show flexibility if they want to find a way out of the political mess. It is true that the hate-filled rhetoric of the past many months has caused deep divisions within the political class. But unless the latter demonstrates maturity, there will be no progress.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022