Time for dialogue

Published June 24, 2024

IN the tumultuous landscape of Pakistani politics, the call for dialogue among political forces has never been more crucial. As suggested by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the need for political leaders to engage in dialogue, set aside egos and prioritise national interest over personal grievances is critical.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s remarks underscore a pivotal truth: the strength of democracy lies in the willingness of its participants to communicate; to put the public before point-scoring. His underlying message seems particularly aimed at the PML-N and PTI. Both parties are constantly at loggerheads. Even in times of crises, their confrontation does not pause.

The PPP, by virtue of its position within the government, is uniquely placed to facilitate this much-needed dialogue. With his experience and political acumen, President Asif Ali Zardari can play a positive role if he employs his negotiation skills to bridge the divide. By leveraging its influence within the government, the PPP can encourage PML-N to engage in dialogue, thereby clearing a pathway for the PTI to also come to the table. In fact, not only is mediation desirable, it is imperative for Pakistan’s democracy.

Giving tangible hope to a polarised public crushed by inflation and unemployment should be the common goal, one that is hardly achievable if the PTI — arguably the most popular party in the country — remains alienated. The consequences of continued polarisation are dire. If the PML-N and PTI remain mired in mutual acrimony, an ever-widening gap will continue to allow non-political forces to assert themselves.

The three main political parties have had a taste of fraught relations with the establishment — with the PTI the latest target of the latter’s displeasure. By uniting, even if temporarily, political parties can reduce external leverage over civilian affairs.

A significant starting point for dialogue is to address each other’s grievances, a task that can be taken up by the more rational elements in the parties. All should see the judiciary as a legitimate avenue for redressal, rather than a battlefield for political supremacy. The Supreme Court’s role in mediating election disputes, as sought by Imran Khan, is a case in point. Demonstrating that electoral processes are transparent and fair is essential for maintaining the legitimacy of democratic institutions.

The history of our democracy has important lessons on the perils of divisions. Unity is rare, but if there were ever a time for parties across the political spectrum to smoothen matters, it is now.

Ironically, the call to end the ‘politics of hatred’ is coming from one of the youngest parliamentarians. The more experienced of our politicians should know that the path to democratic consolidation lies in political maturity and a shared commitment to national interest. Engaging in dialogue, despite deep-seated differences, is not a sign of weakness but political wisdom.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2024

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