Islamabad was the scene of a tragedy on the night of 30th August when PTI and PAT protesters, armed with batons, stones and cutters and led by Imran Khan and Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri respectively, clashed with law enforcement forces in their attempt to march on the Parliament House and the PM House. According to media reports, the clashes led to three deaths, two of them in PIMS, and injuries to several hundred including policemen, when the police used tear gas and rubber bullets to stop the protesters from marching into the government buildings. The clashes continued during the next two days leading to the temporary capture of even the PTV building in Islamabad by the protesters on 1 September.

An extraordinary Corps Commanders’ conference held in the evening of Sunday 31 August in a press statement reiterated support to democracy in the country, expressed serious concern over the violent turn of events, urged avoidance of the use of force, and called for a political solution of the crisis. On the government side, a high level meeting on 31 August chaired by the Prime Minister, again invited the leadership of PTI and PAT to talks for resolving the current impasse. The meeting also decided to convene a joint session of the Parliament on 2 September to discuss the ongoing crisis. Meanwhile, various political leaders and parties asked the government, PTI and PAT to exercise restraint and resolve their differences through dialogue without any further loss of time.

However, neither PTI nor PAT shows any sign of restraint or inclination to resolve the issue through a reasonable compromise. PTI wants an impartial investigation of the allegations of electoral rigging, electoral reforms to close all loopholes for the rigging of elections in the future, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation while the investigation is taking place. The federal government has reportedly accepted all of these demands excepting the one relating to the Prime Minister’s resignation on the grounds that a Prime Minister cannot be sent home purely on the basis of allegations until and unless those allegations are proved through some impartial enquiry.

PAT’s agenda, of course, is much larger and wider than that of PTI. Tahir-ul-Qadri wants to bring about a revolution in Pakistan for which he wants the whole constitutional system to be wrapped up to be replaced by a new one under the care of a national government. He has not bothered to explain how the national government would be formed, what the salient features of the new constitutional set-up would be, and how it would be enforced. One thing is clear: he is totally against the present democratic system of the country. Further, he wants both Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif to be sent home without further delay. PAT was able to attract a great deal of sympathy following the unfortunate and tragic incident of Model Town in Lahore on 17 June when about 14 people lost their lives because of police firing. An FIR against Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, some ministers, and some officials has finally been registered as demanded by Tahir-ul-Qadri. But he is not satisfied; he wants terrorism charges to be included in the FIR.

Who is responsible for bringing the situation to this impasse and what will the consequences be? These are the questions uppermost in the mind of every Pakistani. If we look at the developments since the elections held last year, it is quite clear that the federal government and PML(N) were not responsive enough to the allegations of election rigging by Imran Khan and PTI. They belatedly accepted the demand for the establishment of a Commission of Supreme Court judges on 12 August. The present crisis could have been avoided if some such steps had been taken much earlier. Having said that, it is also important to emphasize that Imran Khan has now adopted an unreasonable and unjustifiable position by demanding Nawaz Sharif’s resignation even before his guilt is established through some impartial high level investigation. Imran and his party leaders, therefore, will have to share the responsibility for the clashes between the security forces and PTI protesters in Islamabad because of orders to their workers to march on Parliament House and PM House.

The role played by Tahir-ul-Qadri in ordering PAT workers to march upon these state institutions is even more deplorable, especially because of the irrationality of his demand for the folding up of the present democratic system. He wants to exercise his right to protest as enshrined in the constitution while at the same time calling for the overthrow of the current political system. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s anger over the Model Town tragedy is understandable. He is also right in stressing that the FIR against the accused should have been registered soon after the incident. But now that the FIR has been registered, there is no justification for him to order his party workers to march on state institutions. In fact, it appears that his proposal for the formation of a national government and his attempts to march on state institutions are meant to destabilize the political system and pave the way for a military takeover. One cannot, therefore, condemn enough his attempt to use his party workers ruthlessly for the fulfillment of his own designs.

The situation calls for urgent efforts for the resumption of dialogue between the government on one side and the PTI and PAT on the other. Obviously, both sides will have to demonstrate flexibility for reaching a compromise and a solution. The government has already accepted most of the reasonable demands of the two protesting parties. It is now for Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri to reciprocate by showing some flexibility in their positions. Their failure to do so will discredit the democratic system and the politicians, thus strengthening the non-democratic forces in the country. They will also be held directly responsible if their intransigent attitude leads to a military takeover.

At the same time, the federal and provincial governments must awaken from their slumber and take urgent and effective measures for enhancing the welfare of the common man, eradicating poverty, and accelerating economic growth. The people must be provided with the necessities of life, high quality education and health facilities, and speedy justice at their door-steps. They must empathize with the people by adopting simplicity and austerity and by radically reforming the system to respond to their aspirations. They must also realize that the people are not willing to wait indefinitely. If the rulers fail to bring about required changes and reforms fast enough, the present system will be swept away by the anger and frustrations of the people.

n    The writer is a retired ambassador and

    the president of the Lahore Council

    for World Affairs.