LAHORE: A day after the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) clarified that it was, in fact, the government that had asked Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to “facilitate” negotiations with the protesting parties — the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dismissed the ongoing sit-ins at D-chowk as a diminutive storm.
Seeming to have held his ground in the battle of nerves under way in the capital since August 14, Nawaz, who was speaking to reporters in Lahore, ridiculed PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri’s often cited idiom of the “roaring sea of supporters” in the capital, saying the firebrand cleric's dharna had become "a sea of empty chairs".
The prime minister, who appeared to be in a jocular mood, reiterated his position that there was no question of giving in to the “unacceptable demands” of the protesting parties.
When asked if he would pursue resolution of the deadlock by having a discussion with PTI Chairman Imran Khan as he had done on March 13 at Bani Gala, Nawaz said he would be happy to negotiate but that the conditions set by Imran were unacceptable.
“We have discussed our concerns openly before… but how did Imran Khan and Qadri sahab suddenly decide to launch on Islamabad the same day?”
Nawaz recently came under fire for reaching out to the military leadership to play the role of “facilitator” to end the ongoing sit-ins staged by PTI and PAT on Islamabad's D-chowk soon after the interior minister reached out to the army top brass to convince them that unless they got involved, a peaceful resolution of the crisis may not be possible.
The premier also lamented that the situation was beginning to hurt the country's economy and its place in the international community and went on to explain that the cancellation of the Maldivian president's visit was followed by the cancellation of a visit by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He apprised the reporters of the upcoming visit of the Chinese president to Pakistan, saying his government was "collaborating with the Chinese administration on a number of projects and that the protests in Islamabad may again have an adverse impact".
Read more: Army as ‘facilitator’ was Nisar’s brainwave
Nawaz's government appears to be in a quandary, even more so after the ISPR's statement of Friday night and politicians on both sides trading barbs the whole time — each side accusing the other of inviting the army into the fray.