Talks’ offer rebuffed

Updated October 19, 2019

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JUI-F CHIEF Maulana Fazlur Rehman has upped the ante against the government by refusing the latter’s offer of talks.

In Lahore on Friday, the maulana appeared determined to carry out his ‘threat’ of a march on Islamabad on Oct 31. He stood by resolving not to back off as Mian Shahbaz Sharif told a media briefing about the PML-N’s plans. Mr Sharif said his party was committed to holding the rally in the capital in two weeks’ time, and repeated that the PML-N strategy after that would be decided later.

The former Punjab chief minister added his voice to the growing chorus calling for fresh elections in the country but chose not to answer questions about any tensions between him and his elder brother Nawaz Sharif over the JUI-F’s forthcoming protest.

It appears that if Shahbaz Sharif had any reservations about the protest earlier, he was now reconciled to the idea of going ahead with it. The opposition’s emphasis on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation and the demand for fresh elections have become more pronounced after the government came up with a committee to engage the aspiring protesters in talks. The formation of a committee, headed by Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak, was welcomed by many but dubbed as belated action by others.

According to one view, the government’s offer of talks took the opposition leaders, primarily the JUI-F chief, by surprise. It was argued that the ball was now in the opposition’s court that was in no position to spurn this gesture of ‘friendship’.

However, the so-called master stroke failed to secure any long-term gains for the government. This anticlimax is of the government’s own making, insists the maulana. He was given an opportunity to make this claim after Prime Minister Khan, speaking in the wake of the offer of dialogue to those who threatened his government’s ouster, adopted a sarcastic tone and passed remarks about the chief architect of the agitation in the making.

The current assembly is found to be lacking in a number of things — and much of the blame for this should be put on the treasury members. Mr Khan’s statement that the house was running without diesel — an obvious reference to Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s unhappy sobriquet — was nothing short of adding fuel to the fire. It hurt his challenger and unnecessarily gave him more reason to go ahead and plan for his advance on Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2019