The long-awaited dialogue between the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led government and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) commenced on Thursday, though with little hopes of any positive developments due to the hardline positions of both sides on a date for general elections. The talks were initiated on the “advice” of the Supreme Court and facilitated by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, with the PTI designating a three-member committee to negotiate with the PDM’s five-member team.
The prevailing political polarization, however, makes it difficult to imagine a positive result of the talks. The PTI, reportedly, is demanding that polls be held simultaneously no later than August, which would require all assemblies to be dissolved by June. The government, meanwhile, wants all polls to be held at the conclusion of the constitutional term of Parliament in October. Neither side is willing to budge from its positions though PTI has recently hinted that it might be amenable to the plan if its lawmakers’ resignations are overturned and they are allowed to return to Parliament. Early polls are clearly more beneficial for the PTI, which is riding a wave of popularity due to the economic crunch that the public largely attributes to the incumbent government. On the other hand, the ruling coalition is significantly more suited to “managing” Pakistan’s foreign policy, as it is not inclined to adopt the isolationist worldview espoused by Khan, which has alienated many of the country’s traditional allies.
The two sides also have a significant trust deficit—boosted by tough political rhetoric—that is most clearly proven by the refusal of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) to participate in the talks. In a recent press conference, JUIF chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said Imran Khan could not be trusted; the PTI likewise maintains that it cannot expect much from talks while the government continues to register cases against its workers and senior leadership. Nonetheless, there is persuasion in talks. Whether the politicians can escape the familiar trap of non-reconciliation will ultimately determine if the public will continue to suffer as elected representatives bicker.