Pakistan faces a prolonged crisis if the govt. continues to disregard Opposition’s grievances
The joint rally called by Pakistan’s Opposition parties at Larkana in Sindh on Sunday, on the 13th death anniversary of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, signals that the country’s political crisis is not going to be resolved any time soon. Eleven Opposition parties, including Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have formed a grand alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), which has been staging protests for months against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. At Larkana, the PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and the PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz Sharif gave Mr. Khan a January 31 ultimatum to quit and call fresh elections. If he does not do so, they have threatened to launch a “long march to Islamabad”, which could shut down the capital city and worsen the crisis. After spending time dismissing and attacking the Opposition alliance, the government has finally invited the protesting leaders for talks, but with one rider: the exclusion of Ms. Nawaz and PDM chairman Maulana Fazlur Rehman as they are not parliamentarians. This shows Mr. Khan is still betting on the divisions within the Opposition rather than being ready to hold an open dialogue with the PDM.
Mr. Khan deserves to be blamed for the political deadlock he is in now. His confrontational approach towards the Opposition has only harmed his government and Pakistan’s democracy. His much-touted crusade against corruption, which overwhelmingly targeted Opposition leaders while overlooking leaders from his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, raised questions about its real objectives. It is Mr. Khan’s consolidation of more and more powers in his hands and the relentless pursuit of corruption cases against his rivals that brought the Opposition together. Granted, the PDM is not a coherent entity. Its constituents range from the secular PPP and the conservative PML-N to Maulana Rahman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F). But despite ideological differences, they have shown resolve and unity in their relentless campaign to send Mr. Khan home. The government could have been more flexible in its approach towards the Opposition. But the PTI, which is backed by the powerful military generals, has been reluctant to reach a compromise, pushing the country into a political deadlock at a time of economic challenges, from a COVID-19-triggered contraction to a mounting debt burden. Ideally, the government’s priority should be in addressing them, but the prolonged face-off has practically paralysed governance. To get out of the impasse, the government should first give up its confrontational approach, open talks with all Opposition leaders and be ready to address their concerns. If it chooses to continue its hardline approach, Pakistan may be headed for a prolonged political and governmental paralysis.