Let the talks begin

By Editorial Board
March 18, 2023

As former prime minister Imran Khan finally made his way to court – not the court he has successfully avoided appearing in front of a staggering number of times now but the Lahore High Court – fortune favoured him once again as he was granted a major relief by the LHC in the form of protective bails in eight terrorism cases and one civil case. With that done and dusted, and with the PTI chief now seemingly out of options but to appear in front of the trial court today, winds of change have also started blowing from the zealous PTI side, with Fawad Chaudhry saying the crises being faced by the country can be resolved through negotiations and that the government can give a date and place for these negotiations. Parts of the government too seem amenable to the idea. The question though is whether the country – and PTI workers – are supposed to write off the past 2-3 days as a bit of rabble-rousing at the cost of holding hostage one part of the city. Some political observers say that after what has transpired since Tuesday – the attempt to arrest Imran Khan and the chaos that ensued – the PTI may have been forced to climb down a notch or two.


So what exactly has changed for the PTI? For some analysts, while he may have gotten bail yesterday in nine cases, the past three days have also shown to Imran that not going to court at all will probably never be an option. As the PTI tries to spin this as some sort of win, dispassionate observers have said that despite the extraordinary leeway consistently shown to Imran by the courts, despite the chaos at Zaman Park, and despite all the social media outrage, the PTI may just have damaged its own narrative in three days, especially that of holding elections in the province. If one small area in Lahore can be held hostage this way, what happens if the elections are contentious? Making a case for the caretaker government may have been the last thing on the PTI's mind but the alleged petrol bombs and violence certainly has not helped its case. Eventually, the law will take its course and challenging the state’s writ can have consequences.

The question is: will Imran Khan finally learn to negotiate with those he has been consistently calling thieves and looters? He is on record saying he'd rather talk to terrorist outfits, nationalists and others but not his political rivals. Will we see a change in this stance? Or will the PTI chief again choose to sit out the talks and deputize someone from his party to conduct negotiations, thereby holding some level of plausible deniability with himself? There have also been murmurs that not everyone in the PML-N is in favour of holding talks, the more hawkish folks in the party asking why, when Imran was not willing to talk to them in opposition or in government, the PML-N should now take this bait and give credibility to the PTI. While the hesitation may be understandable when it comes to local politics, for the sake of the country it is important all sides calm down and figure out a way forward. Pakistan is going through one of its worst crises right now and political negotiations may not end all its woes but at least it can lead to some much-needed political stability. A word of advice: egos must finally be kept out of the door if and when political negotiations begin.