Government willing to engage with Fazlur Rehman over protest march, says Qureshi

Updated 17 Oct 2019


Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addressing a press conference in Islamabad on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addressing a press conference in Islamabad on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday announced the government's decision to "engage with Fazlur Rehman" in response to the JUI-F chief's declaration to march on Islamabad on October 31.

The minister said that a small political committee has been formed "to get in touch with Maulana Fazlur Rehman", which will be headed by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak.

"We are a political party and are fully capable and willing to deliver a political solution to political matters," said Qureshi, during a press conference in Islamabad.

The foreign minister said that if anything the JUI-F chief says during the resultant talks "has political weight, we are ready to listen to it and if a reasonable solution emerges, we will accord that priority".

"It is not that we have any fear, I must lay stress on this.

"If someone thinks that with a dharna, governments can be sent packing then we have a 126-day experience in this [...] we are not novices in the matter," said Qureshi, with a slight smile.

He reiterated that a political solution to the conflict must be sought, explaining that Pakistan is now fighting for the Kashmir cause on international fora and a unified stance must be presented in that regard.

"October 27 is that despicable day on which Indian forces landed in Srinagar and captured Kashmir," he said, pausing to lay emphasis on the word to highlight the solemnity that must be accorded to the day.

He said that the government's Kashmir Cell had therefore decided to observe the day with due respect and in solidarity with Kashmiris.

"So we have to see whether we harm this larger purpose in pursuit of a narrower, local agenda," he said.

Qureshi said that the other consideration is that the government had just surmounted a great economic challenge over the past 13 months and brought Pakistan back to stability.

"When our government took over the helm of affairs, all the macroeconomic indicators were painting a very dire picture, whether it is the fiscal deficit, the current account deficit, the trade deficit, the investment levels, the unemployment figures, exports, imports, or debt servicing capabilities.

"So just now we have begun to witness an economic turnaround, and at this time if there is even a hint of instability, it will adversely affect our economy," explained the foreign minister.

He said that keeping the aforementioned factors in view, the government had decided in favour of political engagement. "Let's see what response we get."

Meanwhile, in a press conference in another part of the city, Rehman outright rejected any possibility of talks with the government "before a resignation is handed in".

"We have no knowledge of such a committee and neither have we been contacted," he said.

"Before any talks take place, a resignation is mandatory, so that the situation post-resignation can be debated," said the JUI-F chief. "No negotiation can take place on the condition of a resignation."

In a parallel development, Punjab Bar Council, Islamabad Bar Council and Rawalpindi Bar Council all announced their support for the JUI-F march.

A delegation of lawyers met Rehman at his residence and assured him of their full participation. "The current government was selected, is wholly incapable, and has failed us," said the lawyers.

The chairman of the Pakistan Awami Raj Party, Jamshed Ahmed Dasti, also declared his support for the march today, after having held a meeting with the JUI-F chief earlier.

He said the decision had been taken to lodge a protest over the continued "lawlessness, economic devastation, unemployment, and the woes of the farmers and labourers".

'Dark clouds of war dispersing'

Qureshi, in his press conference, also spoke of the premier's visit to Saudi Arabia and his individual meetings with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman a day earlier.

He said that the entire senior Saudi leadership, including the foreign minister, minister of state, national security adviser was present during the meetings.

"We presented Pakistan's standpoint, discussed the region's needs, and relayed Iran's sentiments to them," said the foreign minister.

He said that the crux of the conversation that took place can best be summed up this way: "I can now see the dark clouds of war and conflict that were looming above our heads slowly dispersing."

"Pakistan's number one objective was this: that we do not end up suffering another conflict."

We realised there was no easy solution to the conflict, which had seen many interventions from Pakistan and the international community in the past, said the minister.

"Yesterday's meeting was very encouraging and I believe the one thing we agreed upon was that a peaceful, diplomatic process will be given preference. And all misunderstandings must be resolved through dialogue," said Qureshi.

He said that a mechanism for a way forward is currently under deliberation.

With additional reporting by Javed Hussain in Islamabad and Mohammad Ali in Muzaffargarh.