Imran Khan’s decision to dissolve the Punjab and KP assemblies has compelled the PDM to revisit its strategy
ifferences in opinion within the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on the dissolution of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies has extended some relief to the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). Former president Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, engaged in devising a strategy to bring no-confidence motions in the two provincial assemblies, are now trying to bring Imran Khan to the negotiating table to buy time and hold the next general elections in the last quarter of 2023.
The PTI chairman looks determined to dissolve the two provincial assemblies where his party is ruling. In this regard, he has had several consultations with his party leaders, who have expressed mixed views. Some of them are of the opinion that since Khan’s movements are restricted because of his wounds, he won’t be able to take an active part in the campaign if elections are held immediately. His absence from the campaign will be a huge disadvantage to the party. Other leaders say that the assemblies’ dissolution can compel the government to announce general elections. The final decision has been left to Khan.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the PTI vice-chairman and former federal minister, says that the decision about the dissolution is final. Soon, he has said, Khan will announce the decision after which the two chief ministers will forward the advice to the respective governors.
The pause between the decision and its execution has given room to the PDM to change its strategy. The PDM had initiated back-channel negotiations with the PTI before November 26. Several things had been agreed upon through backdoor talks, led by former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. None of the PDM leaders have revealed the contents but most say that there was an agreement between the two sides.
According to insiders, the PDM had agreed to give Khan safe passage: he would not be arrested and would not face political victimisation. The PDM had also expressed a willingness to constitute commissions in consultation with the PTI to initiate investigations into the attack on Khan and the diplomatic cipher. If the PTI returned to the National Assembly, the PM would be willing to consider the appointment of a new Chief Election Commissioner in consultation with Khan. The PDM had also expressed its willingness to hold talks with the PTI for early elections. In return, the PTI negotiators had said, Khan would announce an end to his long march.
Now, the PDM’s focus is to engage the PTI in talks, strengthen the economy and announce some relief for the masses before the election schedule is announced.
However, Khan’s announcement on November 26, to quit assemblies compelled the PDM to revisit its strategy. Former president Asif Zardari reached Lahore. Initially, a no-confidence motion against Elahi was planned to stop him from dissolving the assembly. Later, the strategy was changed. Now the PDM wants Khan and the PTI to come to the negotiating table. Zardari has held a meeting with PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. According to sources privy to the meeting, Zardari and Shujaat discussed the idea of bringing the PTI to the negotiating table. Chaudhry Parvez Elahi would be asked to play a role in this regard.
In a recent interview, Chaudhry Shujaat claimed, “I had told Parvez not to register an FIR against a general for the attack on Imran Khan.” This has been interpreted to mean that he can still influence Elahi.
The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz has also initiated talks with the PTI. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has met President Alvi twice in three weeks. On Wednesday, President Alvi complimented Dar for his ability to reach breakthroughs in difficult negotiations. He also mentioned his efforts to address the economic issues.
In an interview with a private news channel after the meeting, the president made several revelations. He said, “I made some suggestions for formal talks between the government and the PTI.” He said that he had been trying to bring both sides to the table. He said that Dar will respond to his proposals after discussing those with his party. Responding to a question about the PTI’s resignation from the National Assembly in April this year, he said: “Had I been consulted, I would have advised Imran Khan not to leave the parliament.”
President Alvi said that he had been mediating between the government and the opposition for over three months.
The PDM’s focus now is to engage the PTI in talks, strengthen the economy and announce some relief for the masses before the election schedule is announced. The PML-N is planning to accord a warm welcome to its supremo, Nawaz Sharif, who is planning to return home in a few weeks. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son Salman Shahbaz, accused of money laundering, is also returning to Pakistan to face the courts.
PPP’s co-chairman Asif Zardari is using his experience and political acumen to engage the PTI in negotiations through his own connections. A highly informed PPP insider says, “It will not surprise me if Imran Khan decides to return to the parliament. In such a scenario, the PDM members will welcome him.”
Several big shots from Sindh, the Punjab, the KP and Balochistan have joined Zardari’s efforts to persuade Khan to hold a political dialogue. The next two weeks are crucial. Sharif’s and Zardari’s efforts might bear fruit and Khan may just come to the negotiation table. Meanwhile, the ECP has fixed December 13 for hearing five cases against Khan.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism and analyst