In good faith

Published May 16, 2024

THE ‘P’ in PTI might as well stand for perplexing. After a constant yo-yoing around holding talks, the PTI has now set preconditions for engaging in dialogue with the government. This has come after leaders of the party — including Imran Khan — initially ruled out any deal with anyone. Some leaders signalled the intent to only talk to the ‘real’ power brokers, while others insisted Mr Khan had never refused talks. Most recently, the party has demanded the release of all political prisoners and the withdrawal of all cases against its members. The demand for the ‘stolen mandate’ of the party in the Feb 8 polls to be returned has also been put forth. This is not how productive dialogue is conducted. In a democracy, negotiations are a fundamental process for resolving conflicts and reaching consensus. However, entering talks with rigid preconditions undermines the process. Dialogue should begin in good faith, with parties presenting their demands and being open to negotiating terms. Preconditions set in stone create additional barriers to the already challenging task of reconciliation. The recent statements of PTI leaders in the National Assembly have further muddied the waters. While signalling a willingness to engage, the insistence on prior concessions reveals an uncertainty within the party about its approach to dialogue. This inconsistency will harm progress towards a resolution.

That said, the government, having the upper hand, must take the lead and initiate dialogue to ease tensions. It must consider facilitating bail to key leaders, including Mr Khan, to enable direct talks and mitigate the disparate approaches to negotiations among various PTI mouthpieces. Ensuring the presence of central figures in the talks is crucial, as their participation will lend credibility and direction to the negotiation process. Further, ordinary workers arrested after the May 9 riots must be released as part of confidence-building measures. The PTI, on its part, must dispense with its rigidity and recognise that it must deal directly with the government. The persistent proclivity to involve unelected quarters in political matters detracts from the essence of democratic dialogue and undermines civilian supremacy. All parties must recognise that. Political parties must resolve their differences through democratic means, reinforcing the authority of civilian institutions. Only through dialogue, in good faith, can we hope to end the current political impasse.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2024

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