Time to strengthen democracy

Editorial Board
Sunday, Jun 04, 2023

Talks may not be impossible, if some statements are to be believed. In a tweet, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has said that serious negotiations can only be held with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Without mentioning the PTI in his tweet, Rana made it quite clear that negotiations should be held with the civilian government and not ‘those in power’. In an interview a day back, the interior minister had also said that the PM would respond positively if PTI Chairman Imran Khan reached out to him. Under the circumstances, it is good to see that the PDM government is not ruling out the option of a political dialogue with Khan. This comes after PML-Q supremo Nawaz Sharif and Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb had ruled out talks with Khan and declared him a ‘terrorist’.

However, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar too had said last week that negotiations with Imran Khan could be held if he took “corrective measures”, which includes apologizing to the nation, admitting his mistake and promising not to do anything like May 9 in the future. Imran Khan had formed a seven-member committee for negotiations. When the committee was formed, people questioned how this committee would negotiate as some of the members were in jail, some on the run and now Pervez Khattak addressed a press conference and resigned from his party position while Asad Qaiser was present in the same room.

But the proof of this pudding lies in how Imran responds. And going by his record, he will likely still refuse to reach out to those he calls ‘crooks and criminals’. Many had criticized Imran for one again opting to form a committee instead of talking directly with the prime minister and other political leaders. It is unfortunate that despite what has happened thus far because of his stubbornness and his insistence that he will not talk with ‘thieves and looters’, the PTI has not learned any lessons. In a tweet yesterday, PTI leader Hammad Azhar said that they don’t want to talk to ‘puppets’ as they have no vote bank and for the sake of the restoration of democracy and constitution, they will only talk to the ‘real decision-makers’. This statement in itself is contradictory because on the one hand, the PTI leadership talks about constitution and democracy and on the other, it refuses to recognize political power.

That the PTI does not give any importance to parliament, which is where politics takes place – or is supposed to anyway – and does not want to engage with other political parties is confusing at best and disappointing at worst. After May 9, if not before, the PTI should have insisted upon a political solution through a dialogue with the political stakeholders. It should have worked on restrengthening democracy and signed a new Charter of Democracy. Despite the circumstances, the PDM government has still played it maturely as far as talks with Imran are concerned.

It seems things are headed towards an even bleaker situation. Topmost must be dialogue, along with insistence on rule of law, due process, and the fierce protection of human rights. Activist-lawyer Jibran Nasir’s condemnable ‘abduction’ on Thursday night does not bode well for any political party, political worker, or political entity.

How long can this go on? If the idea is to have a minus-one settlement – and it seems things are headed that way – then would it not make sense for Imran and the few with him to figure out a way to sit with PM Shehbaz and other political leaders and resolve this crisis before it is too late? In all this, where does Pakistan’s claim to democracy go? One certainly hopes not the route it is taking at the moment. Far too many questions are being raised at the arbitrary arrests and detentions witnessed the past weeks, along with the almost-daily press conferences relayed live. If apolitical activists too are not safe, our claims to democracy are mere eyewash.