FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 52

A dangerous stand-off

Ever since the PTI government was ousted through a no-confidence motion, Pakistan has known no political stability and peace. Alleging that he was dethroned through dubious means and at the behest of foreign powers, Imran Khan went to the public and attracted huge crowds who bought his narrative of a foreign-backed conspiracy against his government.

Over the last six months, political tensions have sharpened with fiery rhetoric flowing freely from both sides. The assassination attempt against Imran Khan has added more fuel to the fire. The incident has aroused a new wave of sympathy for Imran Khan who is seen as a victim of conspiratorial forces working from behind the scenes.

Imran Khan has named Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and a military officer who according to him planned the attack. But the government has not budged an inch to meet his demand for an FIR against them. In response Imran Khan has announced that his long march will continue until his demand for fresh polls is accepted.

His narrative has found favour with the general public as the PDM government has miserably failed to improve the economy and instead burdened the common people with unaffordable price hikes and higher tax levies. The Sharif government’s dismal performance and a rapidly deteriorating economic situation has driven more and more people to Imran Khan’s side who look at him as their deliverer from an oppressive socio-economic system. Imran Khan has also continuously targeted the establishment which he says is siding with and sustaining the present government.

The arrest and alleged torture of some PTI leaders followed by the assassination attempt against Imran Khan has raised the political temperature in the country. During the last few weeks PTI supporters have taken to the streets in support of their leader, shouting slogans against the government and their alleged handlers.

Pakistan was never as divided and confused as today. If the prevailing crisis is not resolved soon, there may be unforeseen consequences for the country. Political observers have warned of the possibility of a civil war which has been indirectly hinted at also both by Imran Khan and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. After the assassination attempt against Imran Khan his supporters indulged in acts of violence, blocking roads and threatening to march on important government buildings. Earlier in Gujranwala supporters of the PML-N came close to fighting with PTI long marchers. Luckily a violent clash was averted by timely action by local authorities.

If urgent action is not taken to defuse the spiraling crisis, the possibility of a civil commotion like the ones in Egypt and Sri Lanka cannot be discounted. There are extremists on both sides who with their incendiary rhetoric are making matters worse. They have their own axe to grind. They must be controlled and sidelined to cool the temperature. At the same time moderate elements from both parties should come forward to start a negotiation process leading to a viable solution acceptable to all.

A piece of good news is that President Arif Alvi is playing the role of a mediator and trying to bring all stake-holders to the negotiating table to resolve the crisis. It is also reported that General Qamar Javed Bajwa held a meeting with Imran Khan recently in Lahore. This is a good sign showing that the ice is melting and the clouds of misunderstanding are being cleared.

The matter of appointment of a new COAS is over. Now the main issue is the holding of the next elections. A feasible solution should not be difficult to find as the positions of the PTI and the PDM on the main issue of elections are not very far apart. While the PTI is calling for early elections, the PDM insists on holding them in August next year as scheduled. A feasible solution is to announce elections to be held sometime around the middle of next year. This will meet the principal demand of Imran Khan who should be asked to call off his long march.

This is time for all to show flexibility and restraint. Otherwise, the alternative is continuing political instability and steep economic decline and chaos. This is in nobody’s interest. Let us not forget that Pakistan is passing through the most difficult times in its history. There is growing hopelessness and despondency among the people. The economy is in a shambles and the situation is getting worse with each passing day. Let us hope the country’s political leadership will rise above their petty bickering and act in the larger national interest. And the sooner they do it, the better.