The decision by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to call an All Parties Conference at this point immediately after the attack in Peshawar which left nearly a hundred dead, most of them policemen, is an extremely sensible one. It is obvious that parties need to come together and work out a plan to defeat terrorism and to figure out how to tackle the various other challenges the country faces so that they can adopt a joint stance on the economy, foreign policy and most importantly against the terror that has once again turned the country into a place where blood is spilt far too easily. Given all this, the refusal by the PTI to join the APC on February 7 is extremely disappointing and will leave behind an ever more divided country which seems unable to act in unity even when militancy and terrorism is concerned.
At a time when Pakistan is facing an onslaught of terrorism, major economic crisis and political uncertainty, it would have been prudent for Imran Khan and all other political leaders to sit together and chart a united way forward to overcome the multiple crises at hand. It is unfortunate that Imran, when he was in power, never extended the same courtesy to the then-opposition, and is repeating the same mistake when he is being invited by the current government to sit down and discuss all issues at hand.
That Imran rejected the invitation does not come as a surprise to most political observers but some were hoping against hope that better sense would prevail and he would be part of this important APC. The APC is not about one party or another but about the entire country. No party can take Pakistan out of this mess unless all stakeholders form a consensus on national issues. It was a multi-party conference in London where political parties formed a joint front against Gen Musharraf that led to a consensus against the military dictator. It was Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto — two political arch-rivals — who signed a Charter of Democracy to make sure that political parties were not used against each other by undemocratic forces.
Today, more than ever, we need a new charter of democracy and a charter of economy between all political stakeholders so that Pakistan can fight a battle for its economic and political survival. If Imran thinks that sitting with the PDM would harm the narrative he has built against his political rivals, he is mistaken. It would do more damage to the entire political fabric of this country if a popular leader is not part of these discussions. Politics is about political rivalry, not personal enmities. The onus of bringing everyone to the table was on the government, which PM Shehbaz did by extending an invitation to everyone from all sides. Now the onus of opting out of this important meet is on Imran Khan and his party. Democracies are strengthened when all political stakeholders come together in a crisis but this seems to be lost on the PTI which seems to be more interested in its own politics than national unity in a time of crises. There are still two days to go and perhaps saner counsel within the PTI camp can explain that placing petulance over the people, the country and unity is something that even good spin may not be able to cover up.
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