Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has finally brought its demands off the streets and into the parliament. After failing to strong-arm the government it has returned to the negotiation table; while this is surely a cause to celebrate, the merriment must be kept subdued as there is still a vast gulf that separates the two sides, and little indication that the gap can be bridged.

Recently PTI made public an extensive working paper which contains its proposals, which the PML-N promptly replied to; it represents the culmination of the negotiations up till now and the public is finally privy to the logic of both sides (sound or otherwise).

Firstly both parties agree to electoral reform and the method to carry it out. They also principally agree to the formation of a Judicial Commission (JC) to be comprised of three judges as well as the Chief Justice. They agree on the formation of a Joint Investigation Team comprising of senior members of federal and other investigative agencies to assist the commission. However, the devil is in the details, and this is the extent of the agreement between both parties. PTI wants the investigations to be ‘summary’; the commission is to not go into the details and ‘prima facie’ evidence of rigging should be enough. They also want the investigation to only inspect 30 constituencies that they will nominate and want to include ‘any evidence’ in the proceedings. PTI, it seems, has drafted these demands to ensure victory, not a fair trial. The government argues – rightly so – that 30 constituencies are a mere 11% of the election and cannot be conclusive as to a premeditated, nationwide conspiracy to steal the mandate; something PTI has been repeatedly claiming. Secondly, lowering the standards of evidence in complex proceedings is an attempt to tilt the scale in favor of the PTI, lest the standards maintained by law prevail. This is a major sticking point, one that the PTI must compromise on. Perhaps the absence of this issue in the daily public discourse atop the container may allow them to retreat. One can only speculate.

The prime issue is the Prime Minister’s resignation; both parties agree that if massive rigging is found by the JC, Sharif will resign, dissolve the assemblies and hold fresh elections. This should be a major victory for the PTI; a written guarantee that the JC’s verdict will be binding. However, the PTI is still demanding the ‘one-month resignation’ to show its supporters who braved weeks of hardship, something the government is adamant not to give. It is here that the talks look most likely to breakdown with both sides sticking to their guns. It is here that one of the parties must compromise, or all is lost. Perhaps PTI can rebrand the agreement to resign if found guilty as a “conditional resignation” and sell it to its supporters. Perhaps the prime minister can take a month long ‘leave of absence’ to satisfy PTI. It is clear that if both sides relentlessly pursue “victory,” we are heading back to square one.