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EDITORIAL: When President Arif Alvi volunteered to mediate between the government and the opposition parties to bring down the political temperature in the country, it seemed that he had his work cut out for himself if he really meant what he said.

He was spot on, when he said that political parties should ‘pause’ their activities owing to the devastating floods, and that any narrative that created divisions within national institutions was not in the national interest.

He must have noticed, though, that his party chairman was doing just that on the same day as he made his offer; sparing nobody from political parties to state institutions, even other countries, in his attack on the system.

However, within 24 hours of this statement, the President seems to have back-tracked on his suggestion about political parties pausing their political activities, lending credence to the perception about his not being ‘apolitical’ per se contrary to the requirement for being the ‘symbol of the unity of the federation’ as an occupant of the ceremonial office of the head of state.

Although, for some it may be too late in the game to make such statements purely out of political correctness but we feel that it is better to be late than never. One possible explanation for his changed mood could be a shift in PTI’s (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s) posture; a slow de-escalation from the position where Imran Khan refused to so much as shake hands or talk to politicians that didn’t support him and criticised institutions when they didn’t unconditionally come to his aid.

The President did talk about mediating in things like the schedule for the next election, a consensus-based economic charter, and matters relating to making key appointments, so it could be that PTI’s had enough of its self-imposed isolation and wants to re-engage with the government. But when the party chief himself throws cold water on such assumptions whenever and wherever he addresses a crowd, this too cannot form a working hypothesis.

Perhaps President Alvi should also offer some advice on engineering a thaw when the country’s biggest party, led by its most popular leader, is also the most active in politicking and attacking the government at this moment of catastrophic floods.

The ruling coalition, too, has no qualms about slapping all sorts of charges on PTI’s leaders and further raising the stakes at what is, in its own words, an existential moment for the whole country. And while politicians score points against each other, it is the people that suffer the most at the end of the day.

It is, therefore, very sincerely hoped that President Alvi’s comments are followed by some sort of serious actions by the party he represents, and also reciprocated by others. But since Imran Khan categorically stated only recently that his processions and agitation would continue regardless of rain or floods, the President’s remarks may well be viewed more as an attempt in vain and at best may be cited to sanitise his own position.

Such initiatives tend to work much better when they come directly from the party leadership. In this case, the government has already offered to join forces for the good of the people and if PTI wants to play along it has only to do just that; play along. So if the President can make his own party see things that way, he’ll have done enough for the political pause he’s referring to and also for the helpless people of this country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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