Talks on ‘Azadi march’ fail to end deadlock

Published October 26, 2019
ISLAMABAD: Head of Rehbar committee Akram Durrani, along with the government’s negotiation committee, addressing a press conference on Friday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
ISLAMABAD: Head of Rehbar committee Akram Durrani, along with the government’s negotiation committee, addressing a press conference on Friday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ISLAMABAD: Days before the planned march by opposition parties on Islamabad, representatives of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government and the joint opposition’s Rehbar committee met for the first time on Friday and held negotiations on demands that include Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation and fresh elections.

While Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, heading a seven-member committee of the government, announced after the first round of talks that the nation would soon get “good news”, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who had given the call for the march, said the other side was “not sincere” about resolving issues being faced by the nation.

The first two rounds of talks were held at the residence of JUI-F leader and Rehbar committee convener Akram Khan Durrani, with an interval of two hours during which the demands raised by the opposition were conveyed to the PTI leadership, but they remained inconclusive as the two sides did not agree even on the protest venue.

The participants from both sides agreed that the government and the opposition would remain in touch with each other in a bid to make a breakthrough. However, no timeframe was set for holding a new round of negotiations.

Govt team engages joint opposition’s Rehbar committee before final showdown in Islamabad

Maulana Fazlur Rehman did not sound confident about a positive outcome of the negotiations, saying that march against the government would definitely reach the federal capital on Oct 31. The talks “will remain inconclusive as the government is not sincere in resolving the issue”, he remarked.

During the talks, the government side insisted the opposition change the venue of protest from D-Chowk, in front of Parliament House, to Parade Ground near Faizabad, but the Rehbar committee rejected the offer, said Rehbar committee member and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Farhatullah Babar, while speaking to Dawn after the meeting.

He said when the government refused to give permission for D-Chowk, the Rehbar committee asked for another place close to it but that request was also turned down by the government side. As the opposition’s first demand was denied and the government did not show any flexibility, the meeting could not continue for discussion on other demands that included Mr Khan’s resignation and fresh polls, he said.

A participant of the meeting requesting anonymity told Dawn the Rehbar committee had demanded PM Khan’s resignation, re-elections, lifting of curbs on the media, supremacy of civilian institutions and enforcement of Islamic clauses as given in the Constitution.

After the first round, the two sides held a brief joint press conference in which they expressed the hope for a positive outcome of the meeting.

Mr Khattak said that talks were held in a “cordial environment” in which both sides put forward their recommendations. “Insha Allah, we will give the nation good news soon,” he added.

The defence minister said he would consult the PTI leadership before sitting again to hold the second round of talks.

The source said the government team wanted to apprise PM Khan about demands of the opposition to get his (PM’s) final words on them.

Besides Mr Durrani, the opposition committee members in attendance included Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan’s Awais Noorani, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders Ahsan Iqbal and former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq, Pakistan Peoples Party leaders Nayyar Bukhari and Farhatullah Babar, Awami National Party’s Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Qaumi Watan Party’s Hashim Babar and National Party’s Tahir Bizenjo.

The government’s seven-member team comprised Mr Khattak, Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, former finance minister Asad Umar, Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood, and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.

The JUI-F chief had announced his party’s decision in June about the October march in a bid to topple the government that he said had come to power through “fake” elections. According to him, the long march will start from Sindh on Oct 27 and reach Islamabad on Oct 31. The march is being staged as the opposition believed that Prime Minister Khan had failed to run the government that had caused an unprecedented price hike and economic crisis and that the PTI government had come into the power through “rigging”.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2019

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