ISLAMABAD: Following a protest by other opposition parties, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Sunday stopped his party’s delegation from meeting Senate chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, saying a decision on talks with the government on the issue of ‘Azadi March’ of Oct 31 would now be made by the opposition’s Rehbar Committee.
The Rehbar Committee, having representation of all major opposition parties, will meet on Monday (today) at the residence of its convener and JUI-F leader Akram Khan Durrani in Islamabad to decide whether or not they should hold talks with the government team constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The JUI-F chief on Saturday had given a go-ahead to his party’s secretary general and Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri to meet the Senate chairman, who as a member of the government negotiating team, had contacted him over telephone and sought a meeting.
Mr Sanjrani contacted Maulana Haideri hours after the two members of the government team made another request to the opposition to come to the negotiation table.
The JUI-F chief had earlier categorically stated that they would only talk to the government after the resignation of Prime Minister Khan, a demand which was rejected outright by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, the head of the government negotiating team.
Talking to Dawn, PPP’s secretary general and member of the Rehbar Committee Farhatullah Babar confirmed that his party leadership had contacted the JUI-F chief on Sunday after seeing reports in the media about a scheduled meeting between Maulana Haideri and the Senate chairman.
Mr Babar said they were surprised over the reports as it had been decided in one of the meetings of opposition leaders that all the decisions regarding the anti-government protest would be made either by the heads of the parties or by the Rehbar Committee, which had been constituted in June at a multi-party conference of opposition parties to devise a joint strategy for launching a decisive movement to oust the present coalition government led by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).
On June 25, Maulana Fazl on his own announced that his party had decided to hold a long march to Islamabad in the month of October. Earlier this month, the Maulana first set Oct 27 as the date for the long march, but later deferred it till Oct 31, saying they would only bring out rallies on Oct 27 to express solidarity with the people of Kashmir who would be observing a black day all over the world against the Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir.
The other opposition parties initially objected to the unilateral announcement about the long march by the Maulana, but later extended their support to him when the JUI-F took them into confidence about its plans.
The JUI-F has so far not disclosed details of its ‘Azadi March’ and its leaders have been issuing confusing statements in response to questions about a sit-in in Islamabad.
Prime Minister Khan on Friday constituted a seven-member team under Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to engage the JUI-F and other opposition parties ahead of their planned march.
Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, Defence Minister Khattak and federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood on the one hand requested the opposition parties to come to the negotiation table and on the other warned that if the opposition parties tried to create anarchy in the country, then the law would take its course.
“The prime minister’s resignation is impossible. This will be an assault. We will not let it happen. Then there will be an action,” Mr Khattak had warned, adding: “If you don’t sit with us and talk, then we would have fulfilled our responsibility. Whatever happens afterwards, only you (the opposition parties) will be responsible for it.”
He said if the opposition attempted to create chaos in the country, then the government would be left with no option but to act and “make decisions according to the law”.
Responding to the ministers’ presser, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal in a statement sought to remind the government that holding a protest was a right granted to the citizens by the Constitution.
“How can those who themselves staged a sit-in object to a protest?” he asked, terming the talks offer a “two-faced move”.
“Imran Khan should first tender an apology to the nation and to Nawaz Sharif before talking about negotiations,” he said.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019