LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan has agreed to sit with rival political parties for the sake of “greater national consensus” on elections after a delegation of civil society members called on the former premier in a bid to defuse political tensions.

The delegation that desc­ribed itself as “mediators” managed to convince Imran Khan to participate in a proposed multi-party moot and said that other parties were also valid stakeholders in the political and electoral process.

Later, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry also confirmed this development. “The civil society has spoken to Imran Khan and he has agreed to be part of the multi-party conference (MPC) to develop a consensus on the elections date and the process that leads to polls,” he added.

“It was an intense debate with Imran Khan, who was first relentless in his well-known denunciatory tone for all stakeholders. He even demanded some confid­ence-building measures before agreeing to the MPC proposal,” explained one of the participants, who did not wish to be named as the process was still in the budding stage.

In meeting with civil society delegation, former PM demands confidence building measures from govt

However, the civil society representatives were able to press upon him in the next more than an hour of argum­ents that he was not the only stakeholder in the electoral process. In response to confidence-building measures, the representatives reminded the PTI chief that the civil society was only an “initiator and facilitator of political dialogue” and there was a need for the political parties to thrash out such issues.

During the meeting, it was pointed out that if political players were not ready to talk to each other and the military was “not ready to intervene in the political process”, then there was no way that things would move forward toward reconciliation. “Fortunately, Mr Khan agreed – for now at least,” the participant added.

A party insider explained the change of mood, if not heart, in these words: “The civil society initiative and its acceptance by Imran Khan has come after some of the [party] leaders realised that the current confrontational strategy had the former ruling party in a bind.”

The moderates in the party got in touch with the representatives of the civil society and pushed them to play role in reducing political tensions, the insider said, adding that the leaked call between President Arif Alvi and Dr Yasmin Rashid wherein Dr Rashid urged the president to play his part to defuse tensions, was one reflection of this realisation.

The proposed single-point agenda - elections - of the planned MPC suits Imran Khan as well: one of the reasons for his expressed readiness for the proposed moot after many such failed attempts in the past.

Imtiaz Alam, who spoke outside the residence of Imran Khan, claimed: “Imran Khan has clearly endorsed civil society’s appeal to all political parties to hold dialogue on the framework and timing of elections.”

According to Mr Alam, the former premier also agreed that the PTI would participate in the proposed all-party moot to reach a consensus on elections. He also emphasised the need for taking confidence-building measures -- as asked by Imran Khan -- to create a congenial atmosphere for talks. “As the ball to hold APC has been set into motion, other political leaders are being approached for their response for this one-agenda conference,” he added.

Pervaiz Khattak, former defence minister, also lent support to the proposal, when he spoke at Zaman Park. “We are ready to talk to everyone for elections. We are peaceful people, with only one demand: hold elections,” he said, adding that the PTI would talk to all parties.

Hussain Naqi, a veteran journalist and an active member of civil society, said that civil society “believes no one should be shunted out of politics” on any pretext.

“Imran Khan should be given full freedom for his politics, and so should other political parties. The ultimate power lies with the people of Pakistan and they must decide who rules the country. However, all parties should also play by the democratic rules of the game and shun violent behaviour,” he urged.

In a statement issued after the meeting, civil society representatives said that the Pakistan Bar Council has agreed to host the MPC if “major political parties respond to this call”.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2023

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