Light at the end of the tunnel?

Source:  Arab News Published in Current Affairs on Saturday, August 23, 2014

It veers from high politics to low farce seemingly from hour to hour. Depending on the time of the day or the latest micro-move by either side, the impasse between the federal government and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf seems to deepen, move towards resolution or maintaining status quo.

While simultaneously signalling that it could in fact still go the settlement route, the PTI formally initiated the process of its MNAs quitting parliament. Meanwhile, the government distanced itself from its default container strategy – the use of shipping containers to impede the arrival of protesters at the protest site outside parliament now. The good news is that, yet again, the door to a negotiated settlement has opened. The bad news is that it could quickly shut again, prolonging an already lengthy crisis.

At this point, given the flip-flops, feints, brinkmanship and opportunism on both sides, there is little that can be said with certainty. The PTI in particular has taken mercurialness to another, altogether unprecedented level.

If that were not problematic enough, the government seems devoid of any initiative or breakthrough ideas. The prime minister seems strangely content to lead via committee and to rely on the same small set of advisers who allowed matters to reach this stage to begin with. Both the PTI and PML-N need a more dynamic leadership at the very top, at least that much is clear.

Yet, that is hardly likely to materialise in the present circumstances. In every crisis, though, lies an opportunity for individuals to step up and provide the missing piece in the leadership puzzle. The PTI, given its more freewheeling approach to politics, can still mint a hero or two by squaring the differences between the absolutists and the pragmatists in the party.

Coming back into the mainstream political fold by taking back the parliamentary resignations, while returning the PTI’s focus on electoral reforms, would surely count as deserving of hero status for whoever in the PTI can convince the party hawks to soften their stance.

Outside the PTI too there are political forces, especially the significant parliamentary ones, who can surely up the intensity and speed of their involvement as interlocutors between the politically warring sides to broker a deal.

Former president Asif Zardari, other PPP leaders, Jamaat-i-Islami leader Sirajul Haq and the leaders of some of the regional parties too can play a role in brokering a settlement. Whatever the details of a settlement – if there is to be one – it needs to remain with the constitutional and democratic scheme of things.

At their worst, the PTI demands are not quite unconstitutional but are surely destabilising for democratic stability. The call for the prime minister’s resignation and fresh elections makes little sense given that it is only the PTI and Tahirul Qadri’s demand. Minus that, there is much that the government can offer and do.

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