Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, who has been appointed by the government to spearhead talks with opposition parties, on Saturday said that the opposition's refusal to come to the table points towards an anti-Kashmir agenda.
Khattak was referring to the opposition parties' decision to answer JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman's call to band together and march against the government on October 31.
The opposition has thus far refused to come to the table for talks with the government and has instead voiced a singular demand: the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Editorial: Talks’ offer rebuffed
"We are requesting the opposition parties to come and talk," Khattak told a press conference held in Islamabad's Parliament House, adding, "Because if you have any issues then you should talk. This is a democracy."
The defence minister warned that such stubborn behaviour will only result in "utter lawlessness". He rejected any possibility of a resignation from the premier.
"If you don't sit with us and talk, then we would have fulfilled our responsibility. Whatever happens afterwards will be on you," he said, addressing the opposition parties.
Khattak warned that in such an event, the government will then be left with no choice but to act and "make decisions according to the law".
He said that the country is faced with many issues, foremost of which is the Kashmir issue, "which seems to be constantly cast aside". "It seems there is some other agenda (behind the protest); an agenda has been formed to bury the issue of Kashmir."
Khattak said that messages have been sent to senior leadership of all opposition parties to come to the table for talks and expressed hope that the offer may yet be taken up.
He negated the impression that the government had been pushed into forming a committee "out of fear". "These are norms of democracy. Things can only be resolved through dialogue."
He lay stress on the fact that the government only wishes to safeguard the nation from anarchy and destruction. "The government has to establish its writ. If someone challenges the government, it is not just Imran Khan that is the government, it is a state. And it is not just PTI that forms the state, we have a whole system and if someone wishes it harm, they will get the rightful response."
The defence minister said that whenever one tunes into Indian media channels, "it seems people (in Pakistan) are working on their (Indian) agenda". "They (Indians) are happy to see Pakistan descend into chaos."
He said the government for that reason wishes to sit down and hold talks and strengthen the country's position against external threats.
Khattak, drawing a comparison from a protest sit in by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf — which was part of the opposition in 2014 — said that the PTI approach had been different whereby before a protest was called, the National Assembly, courts, and Election Commission of Pakistan were all approached first.
"When all options were exhausted, only then did Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was the party leader, decide to march on Islamabad."
Khattak said the PTI "didn't just come out without a rhyme or reason". "We had an issue (election rigging) and a list of demands."
The defence minister sought to remind everyone that the Panama scandal had also unfolded and the PTI had "rightly demanded an inquiry into the matter but no one listened".
"Right after we launched our movement, the very next day the Supreme Court gave its verdict in the case and we accepted it and put an end to our movement," said Khattak.
He further pointed out that despite the Panama scandal, the PTI "held talks (with the government) and discussions continued and when a commission was formed, we accepted its decision".
Khattak said that on the other hand, the opposition had never once approached the government in the Assembly or otherwise and presented its demands.
He called on Maulana (Fazlur Rehman) sahib to give the government's offer some thought. "He should think about Pakistan. If his agenda is Pakistan, it he loves his homeland and has love for Kashmiris, he will have to sit down and talk with us."
The defence minister said that if the agenda is to create anarchy and to let Pakistan slip further (into a downward economic spiral), then his choice to continue (with the march) will reflect the same.
He said that the seven-member negotiation committee formed by the government — which contains National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, Asad Umar, Shafqat Mehmood, Noorul Haq Qadri, and Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervez Elahi — has the composition it does "because the government is taking the matter very seriously and wishes for the same to be communicated".
'Protest a constitutional right'
PML-N secretary-general Ahsan Iqbal, in response, sought to remind the government that carrying out a protest was a right accorded to citizens by the Constitution of Pakistan. "How can ones who themselves staged a sit-in object to a protest?"
He said that the offer for talks was a "two-faced move".
Iqbal, in a stark reminder of the 2014 sit-in by the PTI, said: "The 126-day sit-in caused a complete shut down of schools, the Chinese president's tour was cancelled and now you are worried about the education of children?"
"Imran Khan should first render an apology to the nation and to Nawaz Sharif before talking about negotiations," he added.
The PML-N leader, in another swipe at PTI, questioned the conscience with which the party's representatives were "delivering sermons on the wisdom of talks" when they "descended onto the PTV offices, the Supreme Court building and the Parliament?"
"On the one hand, this incompetent prime minister lays before us this farce of a committee, and on the other he bad mouths his political opponents and ridicules them," he said.
Iqbal said that it is not only Shahbaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman who view him as "incompetent" and "a failure", but the entire nation who endorse the view.
"The entire opposition, the nation's traders, labourers, students and media will all come out (on October 31) to rid themselves of Khan's follies," he declared.