It is unfortunate that the PML-N and PTI are treating an issue of national importance – electoral transparency and reform – as a personal tussle. There is no strategic planning with an objective in mind. This blatant brinkmanship is not only unprincipled but is causing serious harm to the country; the death of PTI activist, Haq Nawaz, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s outline the objectives. For PTI: the aim is to have a fair inquiry into allegations of rigging in the general elections, and usher in electoral reform to ensure that such discrepancies are not present in the future. For PML-N: to end the spate of destabilising protests, bring estranged parliamentarians into the fold, focus on matters of state, and hopefully, usher in meaningful electoral reform for the next general elections. Throughout this, there have been numerous points in time where these objectives were aligned. A little compromise here, a little initiative there, and we would have emerged from this with a victory for both parties. At the peak of the dharna days, the government was on the back foot; they agreed to the formation of the judicial commission, agreed to resign if implicated and planned electoral reform, yet Imran Khan, drunk on chanting crowds and riding the wave of popularity, refused to back down from the completely symbolic demand for the Prime Minister’s resignation. Now, once immediate danger had passed and the PTI dropped its demand for the PM’s resignation, the PML-N perceived itself in power and brushed aside the PTI’s advances for negotiations with kingly disdain.

Only after Rome burned, did Nero realise his mistake. The government has assigned Ishaq Dar to resume dialogue with the PTI, who in a press conference reiterated the government’s stance but also urged the PTI to pledge that it will accept the decision of the judicial commission, whatever it is. This is a positive development, assuming PTI responds sensibly. Yet, the whole episode has revealed that the PML-N is unwilling to – or perhaps incapable of – changing its modus operandi. Once again it waited to see what street power PTI could muster, hoping to ride the wave and not concede an inch. This flawed policy of non-engagement and lethargy does nothing to deal with the legitimate grievances of the people, it only hopes that the adversary exhausts themselves, where it should be looking to avoid the fight altogether. Nawaz should be aware that it takes a drop of tragedy to reinvigorate protest, something the government has the ability to deliver in torrents.