PTI, PAT sit-ins now in decisive phase

ISLAMABAD: The sit-in protests, led separately by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, in Islamabad’s heavily fortified red zone area have entered into a decisive phase following a cautious call from the military to all stakeholders to end the crisis through dialogue as soon as possible.
Following Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s call to all stakeholders, the mood started changing in top ranks of PTI and PAT. It was the second statement issued by the military since the protesters embarked on Islamabad red-zone area. PAT was quick to respond. “I am not against negotiations but the government had never seriously considered approaching me,” Dr Tahirul Qadri said while standing besides Ijazul Haq and Haider Abbas Rizvi who went to convince him for talks with the government. This was followed by a visit of two federal ministers, Abdul Qadir Baluch and Khwaja Saad Rafiq, along with Haq and Rizvi, another breakthrough to break the political deadlock. As Rafiq was one of the 21 persons nominated by PAT in the case related to the killing of its 14 workers on June 17, it quickly realized and demanded for his replacement which the government did by sending Ahsan Iqbal in his place. 
As the drop scene of “Inqilab” and “Azadi” marches have started, things are happening in quick succession. It will be interesting to see how the play ends. As a good demagogue, Qadri would be at his best. No doubt, some of his demands like homes for homeless persons and food for poor on half price are for public consumption, but he would be able to get some assurances on probing of Model Town killing when 14 of his supporters were gunned down in police action on 17 June. A handsome compensation for Model Town victims cannot be ruled out. 
As compared to Qadri, the stakes of Imran Khan are too high as he has representation in national and three provincial assemblies. Secondly, he made very tall promises with his supporters. Hence, his exit from the current impasse would be a bit slow and careful one. Anyhow, the PTI has spelled out its demands and formed a committee for negotiations with the government but still sticks to PM’s resignation. And why will it not? It would be really difficult to back down from this demand in front of such a highly charged gathering. As the talks will commence, the political temperature will calm down and the resignation issue will steadily go into the backburner. 
Will the talks succeed? Several observers think it will certainly. They base their argument on calls from Rawalpindi, the real movers and shakers behind the scene in all episodes of the ongoing melodrama. To come out as winner from the crisis, all stakeholders were looking toward Rawalpindi. The army was not so praised in the last decade as the government and leaders of the independence and revolution marches did in one week. The PML-N government was sure that only the army can save its rule while the PAT and TI leaders too were looking for help from “all powerful” General Raheel for Sharif’s removal. Hence, it was a win-win situation for the army. It appears that Sharif has survived this bout but his authority has been confined to limits. From now onwards, Sharif will think several times before taking independent decisions. It will not be a smooth sailing for him as far as policies toward India and Afghanistan are concerned as well as other issues of strategic importance. 
Out of this crisis, the Sharif government will be bound to make many political concessions as well to meet the demands of PTI and PAT.  It seems the government will remain under constant pressure over issues related to audit of 2013 general elections, electoral reforms, and constitution of new election commission in addition to legislation in the constitution. The PTI, on the other hand, will keep on playing the role of active opposition within and outside parliament. 
TAIL END: An interesting aspect of PTI dharna was its entertainment part. In a dry country like Pakistan, the PTI sit-in protest provided a lot of fun for the crowd. As the music turns on, most of PTI supporters, both men and women, jump into dancing. Many young boozing buddies will really miss this lively side of the dharna after its ending.

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