Agreement needed

Source: Published in Politics on Tuesday, January 6, 2015

DAMAGING as the anti-terrorism military courts era will be to democracy, the PML-N and PTI have somehow contrived to inflict yet more damage on the democratic process in the midst of an extraordinary session of parliament.

In a better, more democratic world, the PML-N and PTI would have had a binding agreement to resolve their dispute by now.

The PTI would have been present in parliament to explain to the country its position on the 21st Amendment and to vote on it. The PML-N would have announced the formation of a super commission to investigate alleged electoral fraud in the May 2013 general election.

The country would have been able to move on from a long-running political crisis and focus on matters of governance and the fight against militancy.

Unhappily, none of that has happened as somehow the issue of a commission to investigate alleged electoral malfeasance in May 2013 has yet to be resolved.

From the government’s perspective, with so much happening on the legislative and anti-terrorism fronts, perhaps a speedy resolution of the elections-related dispute with the PTI was not realistic. But that overlooks a rather basic fact: negotiations have been conducted in various phases with the PTI over so many months that there is nothing new left to be explored at all.

In fact, once the PTI supremo Imran Khan backed down from his demand that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign, permanently or temporarily, there was little to stop a deal from being reached immediately — nothing other than the PML-N’s seeming determination to not cede an inch to the PTI, even where the PTI has just and legitimate demands.

Of course, where the PML-N can be stubborn, the PTI can be destructive, often even self-destructive.

Had the PTI allowed its MNAs to appear in parliament and participate in the 21st Amendment process, it would have sent a signal that the party has returned to the democratic, parliamentary scheme of things and made it that much more difficult for the PML-N to continue to hold out on sealing an agreement with the PTI.

Sadly, though perhaps predictably, the PTI chose the politics of grandstanding and confrontation instead.

If Peshawar has changed everything, if it has helped create a consensus that the first priority of the country should be to defeat terrorism and militancy, then surely the two biggest political parties — in terms of votes in May 2013 and relevance to the national political discourse today — need to be able to settle eminently solvable political disputes.

Barring proof of systematic rigging that changed the overall election result in May, 2013, it seems unlikely the PTI will be able to force the PML-N from power in the post-Peshawar environment. Similarly, was serious electoral fraud to be discovered, it seems unlikely the PML-N could cling to power now. The country needs this dispute settled once and for all.

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