Friday, August 22, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Aug 23, 2014

Crisis: resolution, denouement After a brief flurry of hope on Thursday that the PTI/PAT protestors in Islamabad and the government were engaged in a dialogue to resolve the protracted stand-off, a bucket of cold water was poured over these tidings and with the refusal of the PTI leadership to resume the talks, ostensibly because they charged the government with preparing an assault, the country was back to square one. On Friday, PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi submitted the resignations of the PTI MNAs to the Speaker’s office. The resignations of the PTI Punjab and Sindh MPAs would be submitted within three days, the PTI announced. The PTI has no seats in Balochistan. It has remained quiet over the situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), where a no-confidence motion has been moved against its government. Meanwhile the National Assembly and Senate have resoundingly supported Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif and vowed not to allow any extra-constitutional step. Eleven of the political parties in parliament have adopted this common stand (with the obvious exception of the twelfth, the PTI). In addition, civil society, and in particular the lawyers community, have also come out in support of the democratic order. The lawyers boycotted the courts throughout the country in protest on Thursday. These developments and trends are enough to underline the political isolation Imran and Qadri have landed themselves in because of their stubborn unreasonableness. Even the UK and the US have come out in support of the constitutional democratic order, the latter’s State Department statement earning the ire of Imran. While the resurrected Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said in a press conference on Friday that the next 48 hours are critical, echoing similar dire pronouncements by Imran, the government’s strategy so far appears to have been to wear down the protestors over time, not to launch a crackdown that would only earn them sympathy (the episode of the IG Islamabad being ostensibly removed for refusing a crackdown not withstanding), and meanwhile keep the doors of negotiations open. The PM has categorically stated that there is no question of his tendering a resignation as Imran insists. The PM pointed to the implications of instability for the country if any such step were taken (not to mention the deleterious effect on the hopes for a continuation of the democratic order). As to the military, Imran and Qadri may have hoped for and even tried to create the conditions for a military intervention, but on the face of it, the military seems in no mood to oblige them. Whatever concessions on the issues of policy vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan and the treason case against Musharraf the military establishment may or may not be able to wring out of a weakened government, no coup seems likely, both for reasons of external and internal factors militating against it. If this analysis is correct, that places Imran and Qadri in a cul de sac from which they may need a face saving exit. What could be the shape of such a resolution? The government should, with the consensus of all political parties (including hopefully the PTI), reorganise the Election Commission to make it credible, address the rigging allegations on as many seats as the PTI points to through an impartial audit, and only contemplate the resignation of the PM if any proof is found that he is responsible for any rigging. In such a scenario, fresh elections could be called, although were such a development to ensue in the current circumstances, the chances are that the PTI would receive an electoral drubbing for its non-performance in KP and its unnecessary and irrational stirring of a crisis over so far unproved rigging allegations. And who knows, the electorate in its wisdom may return the incumbents with an even bigger majority in the hope that having learnt its lessons, the PML-N would be more sympathetic to the plight of the people and make efforts to redress their problems and difficulties. As far as the Model Town, Lahore incident is concerned, since the one-member judicial commission comprising a judge of the Lahore High Court has failed to attract the confidence of Qadri, a new commission be appointed that enjoys the approval of the aggrieved party and its conclusions be used to decide whether Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had any role or responsibility for the deaths of 14 PAT workers as a result of police firing. If so, he must resign and face the consequences. If not, whoever was responsible for the tragedy must be held accountable. This path and these steps seem the only way out of the current impasse. Whatever else happens, Imran Khan and the PTI may end up the biggest losers for overplaying their hand, Qadri’s PAT may not be able to agitate to bring down the whole democratic edifice in future, and a chastened PML-N and converging political class (minus the PTI) may be our best hope for stability in democratic terms, with at least the possibility of fighting for the people’s rights without the fear of dictatorial repression.

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