A wobbly stage for the PTI

Source:  Dawn.com Published in Politics on Wednesday, December 3, 2014

OVER the last four months, as the PTI’s anti-government protests have ebbed and flowed there have been moments of high drama and low farce. Sometimes though the PTI appears to outdo itself.

After a long build-up to the Islamabad rally on Sunday, the PTI chief Imran Khan unveiled his next plan of action, the so-called Plan C, amounting to attempted strikes in Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi days apart with a countrywide shutdown to be attempted on Dec 16.

It was not quite high drama compared to what had unfolded in the months before, but Mr Khan’s new strategy did up the ante once again. Then, a day later, the grand plan appeared to wobble as the PTI backtracked on the dates, sequence and substance of the purported strikes — leaving many outside the PTI — and surely some inside — wondering how much thought had gone into Plan C.

To begin with was the choice of the awkward date of Dec 16, a dark day in this country’s history. To call a national strike in a bid to topple a government on the day that half the country was lost 43 years ago was more than a PR faux pas by the PTI.

It suggests the party leadership, and perhaps Mr Khan himself, is either unaware of political history or would prefer to ignore it — a worrying sign indeed for a party that focuses on systemic change.

Then the sequence of the citywide attempted strikes was also changed because the PTI machine in Lahore was deemed to need more time to organise itself, something not manageable by the original date of Dec 4.

In the background though was an even more damaging claim: that the PTI had to switch its Lahore strike around because of a large, two-day programme by the Jamaatud Dawa in the Punjab capital.

It is truly a staggering thought: national politics, even of the fight-to-the-death kind that the PTI and PML-N are engaged in, must take a back seat to the plans of a group whose parent organisation is the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba. Unwittingly, yet again, the PTI appears to have exposed more about itself and aspects of this country than it had hoped to.

For once though the PML-N has resisted the temptation to match the PTI in witlessness. Having initially dismissed the idea of talks unless the PTI discards Plan C, the PML-N appears to have had a rethink.

In truth, the gap between what Mr Khan demanded on Sunday in Islamabad and what the government can offer in talks with the PTI is really quite small now.

The ball is in the government’s court. It can choose to overcome its fear, to show a spirit of generosity and do the right thing. Meaningful electoral reforms and a definitive inquiry into the May 2013 election can and should take place.

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