Dialogue? What Dialogue? | Arab News

This article was published in Dawn on November 02, 2020 and is available at the following link


As the confrontation between the ruling coalition and the combined opposition seems to be intensifying and crossing all limits, saner elements in the political parties and beyond are getting worried about the possible outcome of the war of words being waged on national and social media 24/7.
Nerves already seem to be stretched to the limit if the recent Karachi incident of alleged kidnapping of the Provincial Police Chief and subsequent protest by the police command is taken as a barometer of the prevailing situation.
After failing to establish any working relationship with the government, most of the opposition parties have unified under the banner of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and a 4-month long campaign consisting of rallies across the country has already been launched which would culminate in a long march on Islamabad.
Unlike any time in the past, the opposition is not just criticizing political opponents; it is taking aim at senior functionaries of the security establishment as well whom they criticize for alleged interference in electoral and political process of the country.
All this is happening at a time when the country’s economy is facing one of its most critical challenges, a second wave of COVID-19 seems to be surging, incidents of terrorism which were successfully contained in the past three years or so have started recurring frequently, and tensions with traditional rival India are soaring as shelling across the Line of Control has become almost a daily occurrence. The federal government comes under intense criticism as its performance especially in managing inflation is called into question.
So far, three public rallies of PDM in as many provinces have drawn large crowds indicating a public mood for agitation. The government has responded by enticing PML-N legislators into creating a breakaway faction. Given the ongoing bitter and toxic verbal exchange between the government and opposition, the agitation may spill out of control. Any effort to stop the opposition campaign by force may backfire. The country seems to be on the edge of a dangerous showdown, which may suck in the armed forces too, further enhancing the risks to national security.

Luckily, the constitution provides a robust scheme of each organ’s scope and responsibilities. All we need is the faithful implementation of the constitution, both in letter and spirit.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob

This is the context in which the idea of dialogue has been mooted again to avoid a catastrophic conflagration on the streets.  Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the senior most out-of-prison office bearer of the largest opposition party, PML-N, and some of his colleagues have repeatedly proposed a dialogue to break the deadlock.
But the key question is whether there is will, courage and wisdom in the stakeholders to initiate and sustain such a dialogue?
The PTI top leadership doesn’t seem to be inclined to the idea of a dialogue. They appear to believe that it is possible to destroy the opposition and this is the best time to go for the kill. Therefore any dialogue in the near future doesn’t seem probable. Sadly, things will have to get worse before all sides realise the need for talking.
But the real key to any future dialogue is firmly held by the security establishment for two main reasons.
First, they are in a position to not only bring concerned parties around the table, but can also guarantee the implementation of an agreement.
Second, some of the key grievances of the opposition relate to their alleged interference in the political and electoral process of the country.
If a new electoral and political system, free from any interference has to be evolved, the security establishment has to be on board.
The single most important agenda item in any future dialogue therefore, will be the alleged encroachment of one organ of the state in the turf of the other. Former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Asif Saeed Khosa, had proposed an inter-institutional dialogue involving the parliamentary leadership, judiciary, executive, military and intelligence agencies. The feasibility of such a grand dialogue is yet to be established.
Luckily, the constitution provides a robust scheme of each organ’s scope and responsibilities. All we need is the faithful implementation of the constitution, both in letter and spirit.
One serious option is to make use of the platform of the National Security Committee to hold a series of meetings where heads of key political parties may also be present on special invitation.
Sadly, the forum of NSC which has the representation of both civil and military leadership has not been used for resolving strategic civil-military issues in the past. Can the leadership rise to the occasion now and seriously address such issues?

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