Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 4, 2014

Back to talks? Imran Khan may have delivered his usual fire and brimstone speech at the rally in Islamabad on November 30, and one could be forgiven for thinking that he had declared open season on the government, but as in so much else in our politics, this may have proved an illusion. The portents after the November 30 rally seem to point in the opposite direction. Both the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and the government are sending signals that they are prepared to return to the negotiating table to sort out the crisis. On the PTI’s part, not unusually, Imran Khan’s bloodcurdling threats to shut down sequentially major cities and then the country as a whole, did not survive long. Whether it was the response of the business community that vociferously rejected the PTI’s Plan C to shut down trade and business in the targeted cities of Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi, or a cooler rethink by the PTI’s think tank regarding their party’s capacity to carry out the threat in practice, subsequent statements by the party spokespeople have indicated their willingness to cancel at least the first phase of Plan C if talks with the government begin by December 6. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif in London indicated that talks and shutdowns could not go hand in hand and if the PTI was willing to return to the talks, the government would welcome it, provided the agitation was wound down. Whether this can be regarded as emerging convergence or merely the restating of the respective positions only time will tell. The PM has charged Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to lead the government side in exploring the possibility of resuming the talks. From the PTI’s ranks, Shah Mahmood Qureshi is the point man. Both restated their respective positions along the lines above and each promised that if their precondition was met, they would prevail upon their respective leaders to pave the way for the negotiating table to be trotted out. The PM did not refrain however from criticising the agitational politics of the PTI nor its inadequacies of governance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He pointed to the new ways of doing things that he and Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah were setting the precedents for, which essentially revolved around settling issues through dialogue and within democratic norms. Imran Khan on the other hand delineated once again his simplistic notions of how the problems of the country could be fixed. Just 200 competent professionals appointed to the right posts would be sufficient to transform the country into a land of milk and honey in which 110 million people would as a result be lifted out of poverty. Further, he has stated that had he been in power, he would not have sent the army into the tribal areas. Instead he would have restored peace through talks (presumably with the militants who went through the preliminaries of such an exercise last year and then showed their fangs). If only life, and the problems of Pakistan, could be so easily resolved. The central question remains whether, should the talks resume, as they should, the two sides can reconcile their respective positions and move forward. The PTI continues to insist that the government set up a judicial commission to probe the fairness of the 2013 elections and touts its concession that it has retreated from its maximalist demand of the resignation of the PM until the commission reports. Only if the commission finds the mandate false would he be asked to go. What this insistence ignores deliberately perhaps is that the government cannot ‘set up’ such a commission. Only the Supreme Court (SC) can. And that august institution has already been requested to do so by the PM sending a letter to this effect to the Chief Justice of Pakistan some months ago. Properly speaking, if the PTI is so keen on the judicial commission, it should redirect its demand to the SC. How the apex court might respond to such a request cannot be second-guessed. But the implication of the PTI’s insistence that the government accede to a demand it has already agreed to and acted upon is that the talks, provided they resume, will hit this fundamental obstacle at the very first post. A breakdown then could mean a return to agitation by the PTI, with incalculable results for the normal life, economy and stability of the country.

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