ISLAMABAD: Even on the 27th day of their marathon sit-in on Constitution Avenue, Imran Khan appeared defiant. His party members, too, appeared to be standing firm behind their leader.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) core committee on Wednesday resolved to continue with their ‘Azadi March’ until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif steps down and allows the proposed judicial commission to conduct an unvarnished audit of the results of the May 2013 general elections.

Moreover, the party’s leadership, which met inside Mr Khan’s container at D-Chowk, decided to mark the completion of one month of their sit-in on Saturday, September 13.

Negotiators say talks have entered ‘decisive phase’

Dubbed ‘One Nation Day’, the core committee meeting discussed the logistics of this intended celebration and pondered plans to make this event a well-attended affair. A member of the core committee told Dawn, “Although the crowd at D-Chowk usually swells over the weekend, the chairman wants to turn Saturday’s gathering into a massive show.”

He admitted that the unexpected floods in Punjab had taken a toll on attendance figures over the past week, but insisted that they were continuing with their sit-in due to the government’s stubbornness.

An official from the party’s media wing told Dawn that Mr Khan also gave core committee members a ‘pep talk’ and said that from this point they could only move forward.

“In the meeting, there were whispers asking for a cut-off date for the march. But the chairman insisted that they had come too far to call off the march without securing a free and fair probe into the elections, which was not possible as long as the PM stayed in office,” the office-bearer said.

The core committee also asked Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi to hold talks with Mumtaz Bhutto, following a proposal to invite the Sindh-based veteran politician to join PTI. Mr Bhutto had joined the PML-N before the general elections, but, since then, had developed serious differences with the Sharif brothers.

Mr Khan also directed the party’s Punjab chapter to make all possible efforts to help the victims of the devastating floods that ravaged parts of Azad Kashmir and Punjab.

Separately, the government and PTI held their 14th round of talks on Wednesday. Federal ministers Ishaq Dar and Zahid Hamid drove to the residence of PTI General Secretary Jahangir Tareen in the evening.

After the meeting, Mr Qureshi and Mr Dar – in a measured response – told reporters that, “Since the talks have entered a decisive phase, we cannot speak much about it.” However, they said they would meet again soon.

A PTI source told Dawn that having secured across-the-board support from within parliament, the government was deliberately using delaying tactics. “On the ground, both sides are sticking to their stated positions, waiting for the other to budge.”

While the controversy surrounding the government’s suggestion that the military play the role of facilitator is yet to die down, the presence of certain “unknown” individuals at the PTI-government talks has initiated fresh debate.

Mr Tareen told a TV channel that certain “unidentified individuals” had been present in their meetings more than once. “Despite our inquiries, the government has failed to come up with a satisfactory response as to why they (individuals) were present in the meetings,” Mr Tareen said. However, he refused to accept the assertion that these individuals were from the intelligence agencies.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2014