Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s address to the nation may have come too late, but it was a smart political move and he is better off for having done it. With Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri threatening to send the government packing by staging massive sit-ins in the Capital, there existed a need (for quite some time) for the elected leader to present his point of view before the public, and engage visibly with the problem. Just how well the PM did on that account is debatable. Though some will see his last minute address as ill-timed, and a weakness that exposed too much pressure, his supporters (the majority of the country), will have viewed it as the dignified appeal of a democratic Prime Minister ceding reasonable ground. A major chunk of the speech was as expected; an entirely parallel narrative, highlighting the government’s economic performance and approval of mega projects. But there were two distinct messages. For Mr Qadri, the message was clear: the government has nothing to give you. The government is unwilling to bow to the whims of a political non-entity with dubious ambitions and violent tendencies. For Imran, the Prime Minister employed a conciliatory approach. While refusing to concede that massive rigging took place in favour of the PML-N, Nawaz still held out an olive branch to the PTI, suggesting that a three member judicial commission of the Supreme Court formed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Nasir-ul-Mulk would investigate the 2013 elections and present its findings before all.
Interestingly, this offer was quite similar to what Imran had demanded shortly before the PM’s address. In a rare move of political shrewdness (or one hopes), the PM seemed aware that his seemingly reasonable offer would be rejected, and that that would only serve to make Imran look more unreasonable. The media and public will now keep discussing the government’s offer and Imran’s rejection, which benefits the former. There is little rationalising the situation from hereon. It is a purely political circumstance, and from now, it will come down to who can play the political game better. Following a fairly composed speech, either Nawaz can finally behave like the democratically elected leader of the country and make Imran’s words seem like the ravings of a madman, or he can continue to shoot himself in the foot and create more panic, chaos and danger in the capital.