Negotiations for public consumption

All the three parties involved in the ongoing political crisis seem to have started negotiations on Friday to save their image in the public more than resolving the political tangle.
It appears that the three parties - the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – do not want to carry the blame that they were not interested in a peaceful and negotiated settlement of their disputes. 
The government’s functioning has been seriously affected by the sit-in in the federal capital for the last eight days. It can hardly afford that this paralysis continues for another week. After a few days, it may have to use force on a limited scale to dispel the crowds but it needs to justify this kind of action. It needs to tell people that it exhausted all peaceful avenues including negotiations before doing so.
On the other hand, if the prolonged crisis ends up in some extra-constitutional measure to restore the government’s business, the protesting parties, the PAT and PTI, won’t like take the blame for it but to hold the government responsible for this development. 
All the players are holding talks just to draw political mileage out of it. There seems to be little sincerity in their posturing as is reflected in the rigid respective positions of all the three parties.   
A few days ago, the PTI leaders were insisting that the talks with the government would not be initiated unless Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigns from his office. Later, the PTI came down from the high pedestal and demanded that the government remove containers blocking the crowds coming to their sit-in as a pre-condition for resuming the talks.
Following a meeting of the PTI core committee held on the container-cum-stage, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that his party was now ready to start talks with the government. Qureshi said that the government had already started removing containers in Islamabad, while an FIR had also been registered against culprits who earlier attacked his house in Multan.
Intriguingly, before this development, the PTI lawmakers tendered their resignations to National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq. The PTI had obtained nearly eight million votes in the 2013 general elections as compared to 15 million votes secured by the PML-N. The quitting of the PTI will dent the legitimacy of the National Assembly. 
The initiation of negotiations and the tendering of resignations are two conflicting indicators. Also, significant is Imran Khan’s repeated demand on Friday that the party would not accept anything less than Nawaz Sharif’s resignation though some party leaders were surmising that Sharif’s long leave could also be acceptable.
On the other hand, Tahirul Qadri is adamant on his main demand that seeks registration of a police case for the murder of 14 PAT workers in Lahore on June 17, something that is a grave problematic issue for the Sharifs and other senior PML-N leader. If the murder case gets registered, as Qadri wants it, a sword would keep hanging over the Sharifs in the future.
Qadri has emerged as a much more formidable opposition and a street agitator than what was expected of him. Most observers agree that his crowd is bigger than that of Imran Khan and is more organised. During the ongoing agitation, Qadri has come out as a leader who is more composed and measured in his conduct. 
The government’s initial assessment that the mob would disperse after a few days out of fatigue has proven to be wrong. Both crowds showed resilience and they are on the streets for almost 10 days since the August 13 night. The toughness of the protesters and their ability to stay put at the Constitution Avenue has strengthened the hands of both Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. 
This situation has compelled the government to soften its position and start dialogue. The government will have to think several times before using force to disperse them because the sit-ins have women and children. Injuries or casualties, God forbid, as a result of police action could be quite damaging for the PML-N.
With each passing day, the government’s position is weakening. If it uses force, it is doomed. If it does not, it cannot carry on its business. The options for the Sharifs are narrowing.

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