One cannot yet say that the PTI is moving towards an anti-climax as the street power mustered by Imran Khan remains formidable. Again, after the winding down of the much triumphed threat to the government on November 30 and showing a willingness to prefer the option of setting up of a judicial commission for the investigation of the 2013 election results and subsequently agreeing to resume the dialogue with the government. There are signs of an inclination towards more flexibility.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi in a talk show the other day, has hinted that the plan to close down cities may be shelved if the dialogue is restarted meaningfully.
As has been said, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. There are a number of hitherto unanswered questions. Will the Supreme Court agree to set up the proposed commission? What will be the terms of reference? Will the government agree to the PTI’s demand for ISI and MI officials becoming a part of the joint investigation team? How wide will be the scope of the probe be, say how many constituencies? Will the conduct of the former Chief Justice of Pakistan also be part of the enquiry in terms of unsubstantiated charges leveled by Imran Khan against him? What exactly will be the basis for coming to the conclusion that widespread rigging had taken place for the government and the Prime Minister to resign and quit? It will take quite a few discussions to find satisfactory answers to these questions.
It is time Imran Khan softens the blows he inflicts on the Sharif family and PML-N government every evening from his container in Islamabad. Having repeatedly accused them, also in the jalsas and in talks with anchors on TV channels, he has by now come to the point of laboring already known allegations which sometimes are ferociously hurled by his hawkish colleagues.
This blame game needs to be toned down if not stopped altogether, at least for sometime, to allow a conducive atmosphere to prevail for talks to move ahead smoothly. After all, there is little doubt that the Dharnas and accompanying turbulence during the last 4 months or so, have adversely affected the economy and the stability of the country. Pakistan cannot afford more turmoil and increasing instability.
One also has to realize that a war is going on in the North-West of the country, that India’s new government has been hotting up our eastern border and with the drawdown of the Nato/ American forces from Afghanistan, vital decisions have to be taken by the administration. A threatened and weakened government would obviously be ill-prepared to arrive at a realistic policy. Add to these situational factors the strengthened role of the army. Kerry’s statement after meeting General Raheel Sharif, that the Pakistan army is the “binding force” in the country should alert all vocal politicians to realize that democracy can be saved and buttressed only if they sagaciously resolve their differences and signal a message that they follow rules and procedures and do not indulge in irresponsible acts of commission and omission. Imran khan in particular, needs to review his obsessions and rhetoric (one wonders how relevant it was for him to say that the armed forces should not have entered the tribal areas to start operations there. One does acknowledge and respect his thinking on this issue but there has to be a time and place for articulating opinion about crucial matters of national policy and strategy).
Equally important is for government ministers, its spokespersons and the PM himself to desist the temptation of paying Imran Khan’s broadsides in the same coin. A new, helpful climate needs to be generated. The stakes are much too high to indulge in low level politics and exchange unseemly language with the other side.
For the good of the country and the people, the government has been jolted into action as a reaction to the remarkable campaign run by PTI and PAT led by Imran khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri. Steps have been taken to provide relief to the people on various counts. These measures are not sufficient or good enough. Imran’s challenge should have been turned into an opportunity to redesign government policies and reset goals and targets. While preparation of programmes like Vision 2025 and striving hard to bring in investments for setting up energy plants are highly commendable, a lot more is required to be done to reform and reengineer governance and delivery of services. Projects and measures to manage a fragile economy are important and must be attended to speedily but equally, if not more important, is the welfare of the people, provision of justice and expeditious delivery of essential services. The task of reform and revamping of administration must be taken up on an emergency basis. Apart from charges of personal misuse of power, it is poor performance and miss-governance that provide grist to Imran Khan’s mill. If the government does not move fast and do the right things the right way, Imran’s call for a change is bound to gather more substance, strength and momentum.
Nawaz Sharif has to recognize that his government today stands sandwiched between an increasingly powerful and influential army (which according to COAS’s recent statement in Karachi, is inclined to extend, considerably, its concept and understanding of national security), and a highly popular and forceful leader who is determined to hasten the process of a change at the helm. Nawaz has to tread the soft ground under him carefully and prove his worth as a shrewd, sharp-witted and sensible national leader. This amongst other things will require resilience and humility. He must keep national interests above his personal ego and never lose sight of the overarching objective to secure desired results, conceding ground where necessary.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.

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