ISLAMABAD: Negotiations with Dr Tahirul Qadri were long and tedious but those who conducted them were firm on what they would concede and where they would adopt a tough stance.
Background interviews with the participants of Thursday’s talks reveal that the leaders of government-allied political parties had ensured that they were given a freehand in negotiations with Dr Qadri while assuring the government that they would give away little to a man who had some unconstitutional demands in mind.
“Dr Sahib, if you want us to commit to a clear roadmap of general elections and changes in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), you will have to negotiate with the opposition PML-N,” a participant is said to have told the Allama when he pushed for an election date and made other demands.
The name of the PML-N came in handy as the delegates convinced Dr Qadri that they could deliver their party leadership’s agreement, but the Constitution made the opposition’s concurrence mandatory.
But none of the leaders sent by President Asif Ali Zardari to talk to Dr Qadri was willing to either make a commitment on behalf of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif or talk to him.
An insider said that each time Dr Qadri would refuse to budge, someone from the delegation would shrug his shoulders and bring up Mr Sharif’s name.
The second ruse they used was to point out that what the doctor wanted was not allowed by the Constitution — for example the reconstitution of the ECP. The negotiators pointed out that this could be done only through an amendment to the Constitution, for which the coalition partners lacked the mandatory two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
At one point when the two sides got stuck over the issue, a member of the delegation suggested to Dr Qadri to call Mr Sharif and seek his endorsement, saying that the government and its allies “were ready to accept your demand”.
Dr Qadri could not say anything. This proved to be the turning point.
After this Dr Qadri had to step back and agree to formation of a committee of constitutional experts to look into the issue. The experts are: S.M. Zafar, Wasim Sajjad and Dr Khalid Ranjha of PML-Q, Aitzaz Ahsan of PPP, Farogh Nasim of MQM, Latif Afridi of ANP and Humayun Ahsan of Dr Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik. They will discuss ECP reforms.
Dr Qadri also asked the delegation to invite legal experts from PML-N to the Jan 27 meeting in Lahore.
Again, a delegate suggested that since the Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran (TMQ) would host the meeting as per Dr Qadri’s desire, it should invite the opposition party. He reportedly agreed to do so.
His four demands included electoral reforms based on Article 62, 63 and 218 of the Constitution before general elections, revamp of the ECP, an impartial and apolitical selection of a caretaker government to oversee the polls and immediate dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies.
Law Minister Farooq Naek provided the legal view during the five-hour meeting.
At one stage when legal points were being discussed, Dr Qadri is quoted to have said: “I am not a difficult but a determined man.”
The draft of the agreement was jointly written by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed and the lawyer daughter-in-law of Dr Qadri, who assisted him throughout during the negotiations.
Earlier in the day, a committee had been formed to deal with the doctor at a meeting of the coalition partners. Presided over by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, the meeting decided on the names of the negotiators.
Sources in the PML-Q claimed that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain insisted that he should be given a free hand and asked the prime minister to promise that force would not be used to disperse the sit-in.
The law minister was not in the original committee but once the government decided to hold negotiations with the TMQ chief, he was asked to join the negotiations.
During a briefing over lunch, the minister told the coalition partners that all demands of Dr Qadri could be discussed, except dissolution of ECP.
“We only had to accept his demand for the holding of elections 90 days after dissolution of parliament because the government will complete its term on March 16 and plans to go for elections in 60 days as enshrined in the Constitution,” said a member of the delegation.
In case of dissolution of the lower house, the Constitution provides 90 days to the EC to hold elections.
“Since the government has agreed that the assembly will be dissolved any time before March 16, to spare one month for the scrutiny of candidates, we will see which dates suited us the best,” he said.
It appears that the assembly will be dissolved in the first week of March and elections will be held by mid-May, according to the assessment of a member of the delegation.
If the National Assembly dies its natural death on March 16, it would set a new tradition in the country, smooth transition of power from one elected government to the next one exactly after five years, said the member of the delegation who claimed that the PMLN leadership wanted the same.
Talking to a TV show host on Friday, senior PPP leader and one of the negotiators, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, said that Dr Qadri had been told that the government had no option but to take the opposition PML-N on board for selection of a caretaker set-up and setting the election date.
Some in the PML-Q might believe that with the successful negotiations with the TMQ chief, they had found a natural electoral ally, but the PPP would remain sceptical about such an alliance, commented a political analyst.
“If tomorrow the Pakistan Awami Tehrik of Dr Qadri decides to participate in elections it will definitely be interested in forming an alliance at least with PML-Q, if not with PPP,” he said.