Head of government’s negotiation committee Pervez Khattak and Rehber Committee head Akram Durrani addressing a press conference on Monday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
Head of government’s negotiation committee Pervez Khattak and Rehber Committee head Akram Durrani addressing a press conference on Monday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ISLAMABAD: Sanity finally appears to have prevailed as the government and the opposition formally began talks on Monday on a four-point charter of demands to end the ongoing political crisis caused by the JUI-F sit-in.

The opposition’s demands include immediate resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan, re-elections in the country, no role of the army in the electoral process and supremacy of the Constitution.

It was for the first time since the opposition’s Azadi march, spearheaded by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), reached Islamabad on Oct 31 that the two sides had a formal face-to-face discussion and agreed to meet again on Tuesday (today).

Soon after the talks between the government’s negotiating team and the opposition’s Rehbar committee were over, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in his softest speech during the last four days asked the Azadi march participants to continue their anti-government protest with “courage”, announcing that the opposition leaders would decide when the protest should be called off.

After Shujaat’s meeting with Fazl, Pervaiz Elahi sounds hopeful of finding a way out of impasse

Addressing the protesters after having succeeded in bringing back the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to the protest, the Maulana said the opposition leaders had promised that they would not leave the JUI-F alone in its anti-government drive.

“We will walk with you side by side every step of the way,” said the JUI-F chief, who had earlier in the day hosted a multiparty conference of the opposition parties.

Following the MPC, the PPP and PML-N sent former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and former speaker Ayaz Sadiq, respectively, to the protest venue to represent the parties.

Government-opposition talks

The talks between the government and the opposition were held at the Embassy Road residence of Maulana Fazlur Rehman soon after the MPC and continued for nearly 90 minutes. The government team, led by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, was received by JUI-F leader Akram Durrani. Both sides termed the talks “positive”.

Talking to Dawn, federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood, a member of the government’s negotiating team, said the opposition had for the first time presented them its demands. He said they had rejected the first demand regarding the prime minister’s resignation and “accepted” the last one with regard to the supremacy of parliament.

Mr Mahmood claimed that the talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and hopefully they would succeed in resolving the crisis. He said the opposition would have to satisfy them on the need for fresh elections in the country.

The minister said that the opposition alleged rigging in the elections, whereas the government considered them fair and transparent. Therefore, he said, the best way to resolve the difference on the issue was to have proper investigations which, according to him, could be done through the already constituted parliamentary committee for this purpose.

On the other hand, PPP secretary general and member of the Rehbar committee Farhatullah Babar said it was true that the government had rejected their demand for the prime minister’s resignation, but claimed that the matter would again be discussed on Tuesday.

Regarding the demand for the supremacy of the Constitution, Mr Babar declared that it did not mean that the opposition would be satisfied with a verbal agreement by the government. He said the opposition had fully explained this demand to the government team which included implementation of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Faizabad sit-in case. The court order had provided a roadmap for ensuring the supremacy of the Constitution, he added.

The PPP leader said that they had also told the government that they would have to make parliament functional and stop doing legislation through presidential ordinances. He said the opposition also wanted the government to ensure media freedom in the country and restrain the role of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) as per the Supreme Court’s decision in the Faizabad sit-in case. Moreover, he said, the opposition had told the government that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and economy could not go together.

Multi-party conference

Sources said that during the MPC, the JUI-F chief complained that he had been left alone in the anti-government movement which had been collectively launched by all the opposition parties. However, the sources said, the PPP and PML-N representatives told the Maulana that they were with him as far as the objectives of the protest were concerned, but they could not become a part of the prolonged sit-in as they had already opposed such an idea.

On the request of the JUI-F chief and on the assurance that the protesters would not march towards the Red Zone, the PPP and the PML-N leaders assured the Maulana that their leaders would address the protesters from atop the container as a symbolic participation.

Fazl’s speech

Addressing the protesters, Maulana Fazl said that he had always said that they needed to move to the next stage but all the opposition parties had told him that the JUI-F alone could not make a decision to leave Islamabad.

The crowd responded in cheers and their chief lauded them that the government was ready to talk only because of their steadfastness.

“We only talk about the constitution of the country — but the system was being shattered by the non-elected who were in power,” the Maulana reiterated.

Speaking on the occasion, PkMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai announced that Maryam Nawaz might come to the sit-in and express her gratitude to the participants.

In a late-night development, PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain called on Maulana Fazl in an effort to defuse the political tension. Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi accompanied him, who had specially flown to Islamabad from Lahore for this meeting.

Talking briefly to reporters after the meeting, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi said they had been trying to cool down the situation. He said the opposition had already presented its demands and the prime minister had convened a meeting to discuss them on Tuesday (today). Hopefully, he said, they would find a way out of the crisis.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2019