The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has indicated that it could withdraw its call for a countrywide shutdown on Dec 18 if the government announces the formation of an already agreed-upon judicial commission to probe rigging in last year’s general elections. So at the very outset, let us say that what needs to be done is very simple; indeed, there is only one right plan of action on how to end this endless war between the government and Imran Khan: that the prime minister finally and immediately starts the judicial inquiry into electoral malfeasance that all stakeholders agree is a legitimate demand by the PTI and other opposition forces. Also, no one can deny that in recent days Imran Khan has seriously climbed down from his demands, including what was previously the non-negotiable demand that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign. The government needs to reciprocate this climb down and this time stick to its promise of holding meaningful talks. The best strategy for the government at this point would be to step onto the higher moral plane, sincerely open talks, and gain support in the public eye and within the media and political parties and in turn shift the burden of recklessness to the PTI.

On the other hand, the PTI, whose protests had until last week remained non-violent, needs to show a much greater commitment to ensure that its planned protests in the coming days don’t devolve into rioting and confrontation. Similarly, the government should not allow a repeat of Faisalabad in Lahore and keep trigger-happy elements, including the police, off the roads. If PTI disrupts public life, it will be answerable to the citizens of Lahore. At the end of the day it will come down to Imran Khan understanding that dead bodies will not fuel his “go Nawaz go” movement. In fact, they will only make the party lose faith in the public imagination and in the worst-case scenario, compel undemocratic forces to swoop in and save the day.