LAHORE: With its chief and top leaders either in jail or facing multiple cases, and the all-important “timely elections” still not a certainty, the chips seem to be down for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

Speaking to Dawn, a couple of PTI leaders said on Sunday the country was fast heading towards economic disaster and the only way to handle the situation was holding early elections.

“Keeping Imran Khan in jail and the PTI out of the election process will not help fix the economy, rather it will cause further instability in the country,” a former PTI lawmaker from Punjab said.

But recent developments at an august office, some unprecedented and some not, hint at moves afoot to retain some ground for the party, whenever general polls may roll around.

So far no offer has been made to Imran by establishment, nor has he sought any concession, except that he wants fair, timely polls, claims a PTI leader

The recent kerfuffle over the passage of two controversial bills making changes to the Officials Secrets Act and Pakistan Army Act, as well as President Arif Alvi’s agitation with the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) refusal to meet him over the question of when to hold general elections, are among the few episodes in this saga which have gone public.

Although Arif Alvi’s term in the Presidency technically expires on the ninth of this month, he has the constitutional right to remain in office until a successor is chosen, something that can only happen once a new parliament is in place.

Another PTI leader, who did not want to be named either, alluded to President Arif Alvi’s efforts to appeal to a ‘soft corner’ in the powers that be for Mr Khan and PTI, for the sake of the country’s economy. “Let’s see if President Alvi succeeds in his efforts,” he said.

As astute readers would recall, past attempts to broker similar compromises have been derailed, in one way or another, by Mr Khan’s own obstinacy. But on Saturday, after finally getting to meet his client in Attock Jail, Barrister Gohar Khan relayed a very important political message from the party leader when he declared on X (formerly Twitter) “[Imran Khan] is willing to talk to all BUT about the election.”

This hints at the possibility that backchannels may be open between the PTI and the establishment. In background conversations, party leaders continue to deny any possibility of a deal to get Mr Khan out of prison, but do admit to the possibility of talks on the core issue of elections.

“To my knowledge, so far no offer has been made to Mr Khan by the establishment, nor has he sought any concession, except that he wants free and fair timely polls,” a PTI leader told Dawn on condition of anonymity. But their opponents see no way out for the PTI. Imran Khan is making efforts to obtain “an NRO”, claims PML-N leader Azma Bokhari.

“So far his efforts have not borne any fruit. No deal is possible after what happened on May 9,” she says, confident in her belief that the state is not ready to give any concessions to Mr Khan “after what he has done”.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2023

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