Though little appears to have changed on the surface, the tectonic plates underlying the Pakistani political landscape have been shifting. Put an ear to the ground, and you can hear the low rumble of the system searching for its new equilibrium.
Even though President Arif Alvi may regret being unable to achieve any major ‘breakthrough’ in the backdoor talks he has been quietly mediating among the government, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the establishment, there are signs that his efforts may have started bearing some modest results.
For starters, all the players seem to be tamping down on their combative tendencies, which had so far made it difficult for a settlement to even be discussed. This is, if nothing else, encouraging for those who would like to see the increasing volatility in national politics be dialled back down to normalcy.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has taken the country almost to the edge of anarchy in an angry fightback after his early dismissal, now seems to be reconsidering some of the positions he has taken. He recently abandoned his opposition to the Army chief’s appointment by the incumbent government, and also seems ready to pack up his theory that a ‘US-backed conspiracy’ was behind his removal from power.
On the other hand, the prime minister seems to be at least listening to the compromise deals put in front of him with respect to whom he should appoint as the next chief of the armed forces. The temptation may have been to appoint the man considered most distant to his predecessor, but the decision is no longer as straightforward because the army appears to want a way out of the political mess without any further controversy.
The Pakistan Muslim League (N) appears cognisant of this and it is hoped that good sense prevails. Meanwhile, the Army too has avoided escalating against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf despite repeated provocations and accusations of misdoing. This has been a most prudent decision, as it has prevented antagonising the disgruntled Khan any further.
Though it is hoped that the pressure to relieve the armed forces’ leadership from the political stand-off may force the Pakistan Democratic Movement and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf into a compromise, one other issue still requires negotiation between the parties. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf seems to have asked for early elections as its price for steering clear of further controversy on the chief’s appointment.
It remains to be seen how the Pakistan Democratic Movement has reacted to this demand, given that recent bye-election results foretell a routing at the polls if it goes in without redeeming itself. The problem is, no opportunity for redemption appears forthcoming at the moment. What ‘level playing field’ can be offered to the Pakistan Muslim League (N) instead? Perhaps it is best that someone like President Alvi is actively looking for solutions rather than leaving politics to Khan and the Sharifs alone.
This article first appeared in Dawn.