Finally the cat is out of the bag. Imran Khan, in response to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision for the establishment of a Commission of the Supreme Court judges to investigate the alleged rigging of the elections held last year, called for his resignation and the formation of a non-political government or a government of technocrats to hold new elections. Interestingly, last month Imran Khan himself had called for the establishment of such a Commission. He has reached Islamabad after leading the so-called Azadi march to press his demands. Separately, Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri has also reached Islamabad leading his so-called Revolution march. In his statement made at Islamabad, Tahir-ul-Qadri has demanded the resignation and arrest of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, the dissolution of National and Provincial Assemblies, and the formation of a National Government for democratic reform.

PTI participated in the general elections held last year with high hopes of sweeping them. After the elections, Imran Khan and his party made allegations of electoral rigging to explain the election results which were far below their expectations. Their initial demand was for the recounting/audit of votes cast at four specific constituencies. However, generally speaking they accepted the results of the elections and in fact formed the government in KPK based on those results. In reality, the results of the elections were more or less in line with the predictions made by independent pre-election public opinion polls. PTI’s failure to get from the election tribunals and the judiciary the quick decisions that it wanted, concerning its complaints of electoral rigging prompted it to intensify its protests. In the process, Imran Khan and PTI have made unsubstantiated accusations against the judiciary also, of involvement in electoral rigging.

Imran Khan has failed to explain effectively the rationale for his latest demands. His charges of electoral rigging have not yet been proven. It appears that he is acting as the prosecutor, the jury and the judge. Based on his unproven charges, he has delivered the sentence by demanding Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. Realizing the irrationality of his demands, he has started levelling charges, again unproven, of corruption against the Sharif brothers. Apparently, it does not occur to him that making allegations is not enough. They can be considered valid only if they are proved in a court of law.

To strengthen his case, Imran Khan has started dwelling upon the failure of Nawaz Sharif’s government to bring about a substantive improvement in the country’s economic conditions or come to grips with the serious energy crisis. While there is considerable weight in this criticism, it eludes Imran Khan’s comprehension that it is not for him but for the people of Pakistan as a whole to judge the performance of the government at the next elections which under the constitution are scheduled to be held in 2018. No government in the world can deliver on all its promises in one year or can be judged fairly after being in power just for one year. Apparently Imran Khan doesn’t seem to understand or care about the political instability and economic stagnation to which the country would be consigned if long marches are allowed to overthrow elected governments.

Imran Khan has also demanded that following Nawaz Sharif’s resignation, a non-political government of technocrats be established for holding fair and free elections. No time-frame has been given by him for the tenure of this government and how it would come about. Under the constitution, it is within the discretion of the Prime Minister to ask for the dissolution of the National Assembly and call for new elections. There are no signs for the time being that Nawaz Sharif is ready to oblige Imran Khan. If and when the time comes for new elections, it would be the responsibility of the outgoing Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to agree upon the caretaker Prime Minister to form a caretaker government for holding the National Assembly elections.

Most of the political parties with good standing among the people have refused to support Imran Khan’s ill-considered agenda. They have specifically rejected any attempt to derail the democratic process in the country. Only those rejected political parties and individuals, who have little support among the masses because of their close association with Pervez Musharraf’s military rule, have extended support to Imran Khan. It is a measure of Imran Khan’s desperation that after having failed to topple Nawaz Sharif’s government as initially planned by him, he has now given a call for a civil disobedience movement and urged the people not to pay taxes or electricity/gas bills. This alone shows that Imran Khan is merely interested in grabbing power through legal or illegal means irrespective of their disastrous effects on the country.

The only common point between Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri is their demand for Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. Tahir-ul-Qadri has further demanded the arrest of the Sharif brothers and the formation of a National Government to reform the system. However, he has failed to explain how this National Government would be formed. Looked at closely, the demand for Nawaz Sharif’s resignation and the formation of a National Government is a disguised attempt to invite the army to step in as is Imran Khan’s call for a civil disobedience movement. Fortunately, the top leadership of the army, which has learnt from its past unhappy experiences, is not ready to oblige Tahir-ul-Qadri, Imran Khan or others of their ilk. There is also a consensus among the country’s top leaders belonging to well-established political parties rejecting military rule under any circumstances.

Although both Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri have failed to demonstrate widespread support for their demands among the people of Pakistan, the Nawaz Sharif government in the interest of political stability in the country should take political initiatives to defuse the situation. Its decision to form two committees of leaders from various political parties to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement between the Nawaz Sharif government and the two challengers confronting it is a welcome development. Obviously the first point in any agreement between the two sides should be a call for an enquiry into the allegations of electoral rigging by a Commission of Supreme Court judges to be completed within a short period of two to three months. The government should also show flexibility in removing any other legitimate grievances of the two challengers besides expediting the deliberations of the Parliamentary electoral reform committee.

The current political crisis should be an eye opener for the Sharif brothers. They should realize that the people are not happy with their failure to provide good governance and resolve the problems of poverty, unemployment, inflation, lack of educational and health facilities, and the energy crisis. They should practice austerity and adopt merit as the guiding principle of their governance. The people will not forgive them if they still fail to learn.

The writer is a retired ambassador and  the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.