Appearing in public for the first time after the Cabinet reshuffle, the Prime Minister spoke at length at a public gathering in Kalaya, the headquarters of Orakzai tribal district. The comments regarding the reshuffle were fairly unsurprising; Imran Khan reiterated the message the government had been propagating following the change; that no minister was sacred and performance is the only indicator to be taken into account. He even utilised the same cricketing metaphor his party members had been already using.

What stood out more, however, were his comments on the Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM); a subject that he has generally been silent on so far. Here in Orakzai district, there was no way to avoid the elephant in the room, and the Prime Minister had to engage.

That engagement turned out to be quite positive. Not only did Imran Khan accept that the concerns and issues of the movement were legitimate ones, he said that he too had campaigned on these issues 15 years ago when his power base was limited to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The endorsement of PTM’s core message by a Prime Minister as popular as Imran Khan should be the final stone that tips the balance in PTM’s favour - and in doing so ends the debate over their legitimacy and intentions once and for all. The Senate, the ISPR, and now the Prime Minister himself, all have acceded that these issues are real and need attention; now our focus must shift decisively towards addressing them.

The only sticking point that remained was the old refrain that the “tenor of their (PTM’s) arguments is in the interest of neither the tribal areas nor Pakistan.” While there is ample room for debate here the PM should recognize and appreciate that the movement has resolutely stuck to the form of non-violent protests – as opposed to many other groups that operate in the country today.

Ultimately we arrive at the same conclusion that we’ve reached each time a government functionary meets with the PTM – that negotiation and compromise is the way forward. Prime Minister Imran Khan is a charismatic statesman who has shown the ability to cut through platitudes and protocol in his interactions with India, Saudi Arabia and beyond. What is needed from him is pro-activism in domestic matters as well. If the Senate can meet with the PTM leaders and seek a way forward that is beneficial for the whole nation, so can the Prime Minister.