No talks before expiry of deadline set by Fazl: minister

Updated 02 Nov 2019

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Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood address a press conference. — PID/File
Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood address a press conference. — PID/File

ISLAMABAD: The government has no intention to hold talks with the opposition before expiry of the two-day deadline on Sunday (tomorrow) set by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman for the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

This was stated by federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood, a member of the government negotiating team constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan to engage the opposition before start of the Azadi march on October 27, while talking to Dawn, hours after the speech of the JUI-F chief and other opposition leaders.

Prime Minister Imran Khan convened a meeting of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s core committee at Banigala on Saturday (today) to discuss the strategy with regard the JUI-F sit-in.

Mr Mahmood said the opposition parties had held their public meeting at the agreed venue as per agreement and so far they had not made any announcement whether they would advance towards D-Chowk or some other place.

He said Maulana Fazlur Rehman had announced that they would make next decision after two days and “we have no objection, if they keep on sitting there for two days, three days or even more”.

Warns against violation of agreement reached for Azadi march

“When they (the opposition) will make a decision and if a new situation arises, then we will also finalise our strategy,” he said.

Mr Mahmood said the government felt no need to engage the opposition before announcement of the next plan by them. He, however, claimed that they were already in contact with members of the opposition’s Rehbar Committee.

The minister said in their speeches, the opposition leaders had said “nothing significant”. He said their agreement was about the venue only. The opposition, he said, in the agreement had agreed that they would remain confined to the allotted place and as far as they remained there, the government had no issue.

Mr Mahmood said that talks could be held if the opposition had any specific demands. He once again categorically stated that talks could not be held on the issue of the prime minister’s resignation.

“Talks cannot be held on two issues: the prime minister’s resignation and fresh elections,” the minister said, while referring to the two demands being made by opposition leaders in their speeches and TV interviews.

Mr Mahmood criticised the opposition for disturbing the normal life in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. He regretted the closure of educational institutions in Rawalpindi and Islamabad due to the opposition’s rally.

He said the government had the realisation of difficulties being faced by the people due to closure of roads and traffic diversion, but said they could not forcibly evict these protesters.

Replying to a question, he said so far they were “satisfied” with the opposition, saying they had not violated any clause of the agreement between them and the local administration.

Head of the government negotiating team and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak warned the opposition against making any advance towards sensitive D-Chowk in the red zone, saying the law would take its course, if the opposition violated the agreement.

During an informal chat with reporters, the defence minister ridiculed the opposition’s demand of the prime minister’s resignation, saying that “a cat always dreams about meat”.

JUI-F Strategy

Meanwhile, a senior opposition member on Friday claimed that the JUI-F had chalked out a strategy to “gradually advance” towards D-Chowk, which is about 13 kilometres away from the sit-in venue. He said the JUI-F had a plan to shift its stage from the existing place to a new place towards the red zone area on Saturday (today). The stage, he said, then would be pushed further closer away from the venue on Sunday just as a warning to the government.

SAPM on opposition

According to state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan in her tweets on social media website Twitter lashed out at the opposition’s Azadi march, saying “it is strange that those who were transplanted by General Jilani are now complaining about lack of the support of institutions.”

The backing received by Shahbaz Sharif and his party from the system and institutions was “unprecedented”, she added. “But you always backstabbed them and worked against the national interest. You changed turbans with Modi and took Jandal on a trip to Murree,” she tweeted. She alleged that the opposition was conspiring to cause political instability in the country.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2019