Crisis conference

Published February 4, 2023

THERE is growing public weariness over the relentless bickering among our civilian leadership. Nearly every indicator of our social, political and economic health has been pointing firmly south for months.

To top it off, the resurgence of terrorist attacks now threatens a return of the darkest period of our long and bloody struggle against violent ideological extremism. Yet, nothing seems to give.

Acknowledging the severity of the challenges, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif recently called for a multiparty conference on Feb 7 to discuss the various crises facing Pakistan. Significantly, an invitation was also extended to PTI chairman Imran Khan to join the discussion.

Mr Sharif had also invited the PTI to send two representatives to a meeting of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa apex committee held in Peshawar on Friday. His goodwill gesture, however, seems to have been spurned.

The PTI later said the Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister and the Azad Kashmir prime minister had represented it in the Peshawar moot, instead of its usual representatives, as the invitation had been received late. Even later, the party made it clear that Mr Khan at least will not be showing up for the Feb 7 conference.

The PTI said it cannot engage with the PDM government while the latter cracks down against it in pursuit of a political vendetta. “It is the responsibility of the government to [first] create an environment [conducive to] national unity,” one leader said on Twitter. No doubt, the government’s recent excesses against PTI politicians must be roundly condemned.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to have the input of all parties and the PTI should rethink its stance on the Feb 7 sit-down, considering that it too has a responsibility with regard to the nation’s affairs whether or not it remains in government.

Meanwhile, the bickering continued. PM Sharif on Friday once again questioned why more funds were not spent by the governments in KP on countering terrorism over the last 13 years and took veiled shots at the PTI for wanting to resettle terrorists but refusing to work with other parties for the country’s future.

Mr Khan hit back, tweeting that he does not accept the PDM government as it was “imposed” on the country “through conspiracy and horse trading” and asked how PM Sharif could be “so shameless” as to “allow terrorism to spread under his nose”.

At a time when the enemy is seeking to capitalise on the chaos within our ranks, this was the worst possible that could be expected of our leadership. If Mr Khan himself does not wish to attend the Tuesday conference, so be it.

However, other PTI leaders must do so. Refusing to engage with the government in such testing times will only be taken as a sign of ideological bankruptcy.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2023

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