Although the process of negotiations between the government and the protesting parties has somewhat begun, the respective public positions of all the three stake-holders seem to be inflexible. It seems unlikely that the talks will untie the knot and lead to peaceful dispersal of the sit-in in Islamabad.
Following military chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s advice on Wednesday to the government and the protesting opposition parties that they hold meaningful dialogue at the earliest for breaking the impasse, there is general feeling of optimism among the political pundits that some sort of breakthrough is on the cards. All the three parties, the government, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) have formed negotiating committees to hold talks. The first round of preliminary negotiations took place between the representatives of the government and Qadri on Wednesday night.
Imran Khan has presented a six-point charter of demand for the talks and insisted that he would not leave his container unless PM Nawaz Sharif resigns. Sharif’s daughter and political heiress Maryam Nawaz promptly tweeted that Imran may spend the rest of his life in his container but Nawaz Sharif would not step down. Those who forecast a resolution of the impasse hinge their analysis on the rumours that the military leadership has assured the government that the army did not intend to take over power in their hands and that they only wanted to have a greater say in the spheres of foreign and defence policies.
It is said that the Sharif government has yielded to the military establishment’s demand for its enhanced role in the issues of security and policies towards India and Afghanistan. In return, the analysts say, the military has sent a covert message to Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan to be flexible in their negotiations with the government and wrap up their agitation. However, all these analyses are based on rumours and speculations, assuming that both Qadri and Imran Khan are puppets in the hands of the military establishment and that they would not resist alleged wishes of the military leadership. This line of thought ignores the facts on the ground and dynamics of the opposition’s politics.
The fact is that Tahirul Qadri planned for the protest and agitation against the Nawaz Sharif government four months ago. In last May, he had sent a message to Imran Khan that he would organise agitation on 14 August. Khan promptly moved to synchronise his movement with that of Qadri’s. Long preparations have been made for the drama that we are seeing these days. There is little that the government can offer to Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to save their faces in front of their charged and devout supporters who have stood with them like rock during all these days. As a result of some successful negotiations, both leaders need something to sell to their supporters, but the prospects for this deal appear to be dim.
One of Tahirul Qadri’s main demands is registration of the FIR of the murder of 14 people on 17 June in Model Town area allegedly at the hands of police. His list of the 21 accused in the Model Town fiasco includes Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif besides ministers such as Saad Rafique and Rana Sanaullah. How can the government afford to register the FIR? The nomination in a murder case implies that the accused would be arrested and he could not be granted bail. Would the Sharif brothers be ready for this eventuality? It seems impossible. If they put all responsibility on the police officers, the police would not cooperate with them.
There is possibility that approved witnesses against the Sharif brothers would emerge from the police force the way police officer Masood Mehmood has testified against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Nawaz Ahmed Kasuri’s murder case. On the other hand, how can Tahirul Qadri face his organised and fanatic workers and followers if he makes a compromise on the murder case? It would amount to a political suicide for him and burying his 30 years of his struggle in building his religious stature and the personality cult.
Similarly, stakes are too high for Imran Khan. Nawaz Sharif had offered him an investigation into the results of 10 electoral constituencies by a high-level judicial commission on August 12. He rejected that suggestion and insisted on PM Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. If Imran Khan accepts a similar offer now to end the sit-in how will he explain his position to the mob he had gathered from all over the country and made them go through all the hardships during this protest period?
The Qadri-Imran duo has taken the pitch of their protest to such a level that a retreat from their maximalist position means a great blow to their political careers. They would prefer to face state’s repression than to bow out through some sort of compromise short of removal of the Sharifs from power. The theory of military’s influence over Imran and Qadri is exaggerated, if not false.
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