First thing first, to the utter relief of the scared residents of Islamabad, the PTI’s November 30 rally remained peaceful, from the beginning to the end. Admittedly, it was so thanks to the local administration’s positive approach by showing flexibility it had conceded D-Chowk, which is part of the forbidden Red Zone, as venue for the gathering – and honouring of commitment on the part of the PTI to remain within the bounds of law. Fortunately and to great amazement of many, the threatening rhetoric that was so much a part of speeches at the build-up of PTI rallies didn’t precipitate into the promised “decisive” battle. No doubt some of the speeches made from the Imran’s container were harsh in tone, but that appeared to be so only to the extent of being grandiloquent, clearly bereft of the ‘burn them all’ calls. To a discerning mind, the show had the tinge of a subterfuge, to hide flexibility on the part of the PTI leadership by inviting the government to come to the table in order to revive the dialogue process. Imran wants the government to ‘restart talks with his party, sort out the setting up of a judicial commission to investigate allegations of rigging in the 2013 general elections and complete the probe within four to six weeks’. In case the government showed reluctance to positively respond to his demand he would “make it impossible for (Nawaz Sharif) to run the government” – by shutting down Lahore on December 4, Faisalabad on December 8, Karachi on December 12 and the whole country on December 16. Given the fact that business lockdowns, road blocks and such other paralysing actions on the part of political stakeholders have nothing new about them in today’s Pakistan, the Nawaz Sharif government may well be tempted to shrug off the threat. But it should not. To ensure peaceful day-to-day life of citizens is the prime responsibility of the government and not of the political opposition alone. In a democracy, the opposition has the inherent right to oppose everything and propose nothing. Of course, the shutdowns, sit-ins, rallies and protest marches cannot dislodge the present dispensation, but to draw a sense of security is unbecoming of an elected government.
If Imran Khan wants to come to the negotiating table from a position of strength it is a norm in such situations. But for the Nawaz Sharif government the overriding consideration should be the talks to defuse tensions instead of attempts at curbing and controlling the anti-government rallies and sit-ins. It would be naïve on the part of the prime minister and his aides to refuse talks thinking that by now the PTI must have lost much of its vigour and appeal. The government may even conclude that the people would reject the PTI call for lockdowns of three major cities and the country as a whole. But why to let things to come to a head when light is still alive at the other end of the tunnel. Imran has admitted that the earlier talks failed because “I insisted on the resignation of the prime minister… Now I say let the prime minister stay”. So, let there be talks, in the open under full media glare. What’s the problem with the government by telling the other side that under the existing law it is beyond its jurisdiction to investigate the electoral fraud? And let the PTI move the court of law and the Election Commission of Pakistan. And if the darn reality on ground is that only the court and the commission are competent to investigate election rigging, and not the executive branch, why should then the government be hesitant to go along with the PTI demand. The ball is then clearly in government’s court. That the PTI’s call for countrywide lockdown could be a repeat of the Fall of Dacca is nothing but a wild speculation because of a variety of factors, although the Imran-led party later changed the date of its countrywide protest with a view avoiding a considerable controversy. The information minister was seeking to engage people in a highly controversial debate or dispute. How unfortunate it is that Pakistani politics has become embroiled in political polemics. The PTI is on streets protesting it is not getting justice in its case that the 2013 general elections were massively rigged. When the government says it was not involved it should also offer its co-operation to bring out the reality – after all elected opposition is government-in-waiting. One may differ with Imran Khan’s “Plan C”, if implemented, it will cause more pain to the people than to the government – but one also finds it difficult not to take notice of the huge question mark that hangs over the transparency and fairness of the last general elections.