Where Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that there must be talks among political forces on the economy and on elections, which he said to the CPNE delegation which called on him on Wednesday, PTI chief Imran Khan responded indirectly but positively in a Tweet on Thursday, saying that he was willing to talk to anyone in the interest of the country. Mr Khan did not indulge in his usual knee-jerk reaction of calling opposition politicians ‘thives’ and ‘dacoits’. He also did not indicate that he was going to lay any of the preconditions that have sunk previous attempts at talks, such as the holding of elections on a given date. He also did not indicate that freedom from arrest was being sought, even as he had spent the previous three days holed up in his residence in Lahore’s Zaman Park, outside which his followers engaged in pitched battles with the police, to prevent Mr Khan’s arrest so that he could be produced before an Islamabad sessions court.
Prime Minister Sharif did indicate that Mr Khan would have to obey the court’s order and appear before it, when he said that PML(N) leaders had appeared in court even though the charges against them were politically motivated. However, what he did not mention was that if talks are held in right earnest, they would not be possible if Mr Khan was held in prison. The cases against him all involve prosecutions by the federal government. There is enough leeway in the criminal justice system for the prosecution to make the running. There are greater obstacles than this, however. Mr Khan will have to guard against those who might press for a hardline refusal to talk to the corrupt (even though when in government he failed to make any charge stick in court).
Another danger comes from those forces which supported Mr Khan when he was in office, and which are accused of supporting him even now. It is a fact that the establishment enjoys power because of a lack of unity among politicians, and any dialogue among them which excluded the establishment would leave those politicians able to exclude the establishment. Mr Khan had taken this refusal to dialogue to new heights, and had even tried to sidestep the Constitution whenever it assumed the government and opposition would maintain minimal relations. Mr Khan needs to watch for extremists, and keep in mind that they might have interests other than his own to promote.