Islamabad: Less than half a day after meeting each other, the government and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Thursday suspended their committee-level talks and were back to exchanging barbs.
While Imran Khan continued his tirade against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and others, the PTI negotiating team held a brief press conference to announce the suspension of talks. However, the PTI leaders left the door open by saying that if their two reservations were addressed (later the party increased them to four), the dialogue could be resumed.
However, the government did not react nervously to the PTI’s announcement of suspension.
Addressing the media outside the parliament house, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said that Khan was simply looking for excuses and that his crowds on D-Chowk were thinning out.
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The government, the minister claimed, had from the first day shown flexibility, be it its willingness to talk or its decision to not use force but the other side kept changing its goal posts.
“Negotiations are part of the political process, but, if somebody believes he can dictate to the government he is absolutely mistaken,” he added while referring to Dr Tahirul Qadri’s demand of dissolution of the assemblies and Khan’s call for resignation.
“The government is in favour of talks, but, nobody should view this as our weakness.”
However, the minister no longer made any statements about being willing to grovel at the feet of the protesting party or standing upside down to convince them to carry out talks.
Indeed, there was a change in the body language of the federal ministers; they looked more relaxed and confident on Thursday.
Apart from Mr Rafique, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif gave an exclusive interview to a television channel where he clarified that the army’s involvement in politics was a thing of the past and promised that “the government has no plans to crack down on the participants of the twin-marches.”
He too looked relatively relaxed.
Other federal ministers also appeared in evening talk shows, unlike the past three or four days when the PML-N was represented by the younger back benchers instead of those who are seen as close to the prime minister.
The government response came after an unscheduled press conference by the PTI in the afternoon where the party’s negotiating team announced that it “suspends forthwith all negotiations/discussions with the government to protest the restrictions on free movement of citizen.”
PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi told journalists that they had received reliable information that the government had planned a ‘crackdown’ on the PTI protesters.
He claimed that the government has already started a ‘crackdown’ on PTI workers in other cities as well, adding that the PML-N workers’ attack on his residence in Multan a day earlier was part of the broader strategy of the government.
Pointing out that the government had not registered any FIR against the attackers so far, he argued that such actions of the government are counter-productive and did not create an environment conducive for talks.
As a result, he said, “We have conveyed our decision of suspension of talks to the government committee.”
Reiterating that the PTI was willing to talk, he said the party would respond positively if the government committee contacted them to address the movement of the citizen and the attack on his residence.
PTI President Javed Hashmi and General Secretary Jahangir Tareen also spoke at the press conference.
The PTI appeared convinced that the government was planning a crackdown on the rally at D-Chowk. This was an issue that PTI chief Imran Khan kept bringing up in his speeches all day long.
Talking to Dawn, Dr Arif Alvi, who is part of the party’s five-member team which held a meeting with the government on Wednesday night, also claimed that the PML-N was using strong-arm tactics while asking for talks.
“What message does the government want to send by attacking Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s residence in Multan; sealing Islamabad; increasing the police presence at D-Chowk; and blocking the food being brought in to feed the party workers?”
He said that till the government addressed these four concerns, there would be no talks.
Earlier the PTI leaders at the press conference had set two demands to resume talks with the government — ‘unsealing of Islamabad’ and the registration of FIR against the workers of the PML-N allegedly involved in the attack on the house of Mr Qureshi in Multan. Later, these two were increased to the four mentioned by Dr Alvi.
Till the filing of this report, it did not seem as if the government had gotten in touch with the PTI over the suspension of the talks.
On Wednesday, the government had constituted a committee comprising Governor Punjab Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar, federal ministers Pervez Rasheed, Zahid Hamid, Ahsan Iqbal and Abdul Qadir Baloch to meet the PTI committee that comprised Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Asad Umar, Jehangir Tareen and Arif Alvi.
The two teams had met late on Wednesday night where it was decided that they would meet on Thursday.
Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2014