ISLAMABAD: Adopting an aggressive stance, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government on Saturday warned the Azadi march participants against advancing towards the sensitive D-Chowk and decided to file a mutiny case against Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman for delivering a provocative speech and “instigating people” against the prime minister and state institutions.
At the same time, the government held out an olive branch to the opposition by extending the offer of dialogue and expressing its readiness to revive the Parliamentary Committee that had been constituted last year to deal with the issue of alleged rigging in the 2018 general elections.
Speaking at a news conference with members of the government’s negotiating team and after attending a meeting of the core committee of the ruling PTI presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said they had decided to “move courts” against the Maulana for “instigating” the public and asking them to arrest the prime minister.
Rules out possibility of PM’s resignation; offers to revive parliamentary body for poll rigging probe
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is spearheading the anti-government Azadi march, while giving a two-day ultimatum to PM Khan at the conclusion of his speech on Friday had said the public could detain the prime minister at his residence and force him to resign.
“Such an announcement is tantamount to instigating the masses and an act of mutiny,” declared Mr Khattak.
Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri, former finance minister Asad Umar and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Media Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan were also present during the news conference, which was held at a committee room of the Parliament House.
The defence minister said the PTI government was not “worried at all” over the opposition’s Azadi march, but the speeches by opposition leaders “maligning the national institutions” were unfortunate. He said the speeches against the institutions which gave sacrifices for the country would be tantamount to “enmity with the country”.
Mr Khattak, who also heads the team constituted by the prime minister to hold talks with the opposition ahead of its Azadi march, categorically stated that PM Khan would in no way tender his resignation.
The government, he said, would not succumb to the opposition’s threats and pressure tactics.
“If the participants of the Azadi march move forward from the agreed venue, it will be seen as a breach of the agreement with the local administration,” the minister said, declaring that such an act would compel the authorities to take action as per the law.
“If anything happens and damage is caused, then the responsibility of it will fall on the opposition, not the government as per the agreement,” Mr Khattak announced, asking the media to be witness to the fact that the government did not violate the agreement.
The minister said the government was open to dialogue with the opposition parties, but at the same time warned that the law would take its course, if it violated the agreement signed with the Islamabad administration.
Mr Khattak claimed it was the opposition that “did not press for” the working of the parliamentary committee on rigging. He said he was even ready to have an “open meeting” of the parliamentary committee if the opposition desired so.
The minister also claimed that they were in contact with Rehbar committee members, including its convener and JUI-F leader Akram Durrani, and expressed the hope that the opposition would not violate the agreement. For talks, he said, the opposition should present demands while remaining within the limits of the Constitution.
The only demand the opposition had so far made was PM’s resignation, he said, adding that this demand was not acceptable to the government. He asked the opposition “not to even think of it [PM’s resignation].”
“If 30,000 or 40,000 or 50,000 people come and say they want to topple the government, it cannot happen,” Mr Khattak said.
Without naming Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the defence minister said those who had been opposing the use of religion for politics were also present on the container with the JUI-F chief.
Responding to a question regarding the reports that some of the marchers were carrying the flags of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Afghanistan, Mr Khattak said perhaps some elements wanted to spread anarchy in the country.
The minister said: “All institutions are on the same page and the army has always supported democratic governments.”
He then criticised Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Shahbaz Sharif for claiming that his party had not got as much support from the institutions as the ruling PTI was enjoying. The defence minister then said everyone knew General Niazi had brought the Sharif brothers to politics.
Mr Khattak said the army was playing a “completely neutral” role and it had already issued a statement in response to the opposition’s criticism.
Former finance minister Asad Umar also criticised the opposition leader for alleging that the PTI government had immense support from the country’s “institutions”.
He asked Mr Sharif how his family could have “hosted the Indian prime minister at private gatherings” at their home if they did not have the military’s support. “Did the army stop you from building schools and hospitals, or fixing the police and judicial systems?” Mr Umar asked.
Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said PM Khan had effectively raised the Kashmir issue on every forum, while the Maulana was working on his own agenda. He added the Indian media was giving extensive coverage to the march.
Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry through his official social media account on Twitter warned the opposition against taking law into their hands. “Don’t dare to underestimate the PTI government. We are exercising self-restraint because Imran Khan has desired so. If he (IK) makes a call, these bunch of opportunists will not find a place to hide in Pakistan,” the minister tweeted.
Contacts with opposition
Sources said that during the core committee meeting, the prime minister declared the opposition’s demand for his resignation as “unconstitutional and undemocratic”. He, however, advised the negotiating committee to engage the opposition and keep him updated on the developments.
The prime minister reportedly instructed the interior ministry to be prepared for any untoward incident.
Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani on Saturday contacted leaders of the PPP, the PML-N and the Awami National Party, asking them to come to the negotiation table to amicably resolve the persisting crisis.
The sources said Mr Qaiser talked to Mr Sharif and ANP’s Mian Iftikhar over the phone whereas Mr Sanjrani contacted PPP secretary general Nayyar Bokhari before the meeting of the opposition’s Rehbar committee.
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2019