The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), part of the ruling alliance, and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have announced the formation of committees to engage in talks through an indirect dialogue brokered by the Jamaat-e-Islami. Given the steady flow of vituperation exchanged by the two in the recent past it is difficult to imagine that any dialogue would yield credible results. However, other parties in the ruling coalition, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), appear more receptive to the dialogue, signaling some hope for the effort to resolve the impasse over a date for general elections.
The key barrier to any talks, however, remains the respective positions of the PMLN and PTI with regards to public support. PTI chief Imran Khan is undeniably the preferred choice for many voters at the moment, especially as the public seeks to “punish” the PMLN for the impact of the collapsing economy, which Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has been unable to overcome.
A majority of pundits believes these talks—if they are even initiated after Eidul Fitr—will not bear any fruit. The PTI has already announced preconditions for any dialogue, seeking a single-point agenda of a date for polls, while the ruling alliance maintains any talks must be comprehensive and not come with any prerequisites. Khan has also sought to bolster support among parties not in government, including the JI, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, and the Grand Democratic Alliance, to replace the support of the military, which seems unamenable to the PTI chief’s isolationist rhetoric.
There are other non-starters that will bedevil any discussion between the parties. Khan has repeatedly asserted that he would not “talk to looters,” which the PMLN rightly notes is akin to poisoning the well before drawing any water. The other problem relates finding a “middle ground,” which no politician is presently inclined toward, insisting on a conclusive “win” that can be sold to voters. The JI’s initiative of securing this “middle ground” is appreciable, but without a significant drawdown from all sides in the coming days, the polarization prevailing in all aspects of Pakistani society will likely gain fervor rather than witness any decline.