ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday expressed dismay over the opposition’s insistence on his resignation and said talks would be meaningless if the opposition continued to stick to the demand.

Talking to members of the government’s negotiating committee headed by Defence Minister Pervez Khatak here, he made it clear that he would not resign. “If the only condition is the resignation, what good are these talks,” a participant of the meeting quoted Mr Khan as saying.

The prime minister said he believed in democratic norms and allowed the holding of a protest with an open heart. He said the problem should be settled through negotiations, adding that the government was ready to probe the allegations of rigging in the 2018 general elections.

On the other hand, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman termed the National Assembly illegitimate and said it came into being as a result of a massively rigged election. He reiterated his demand that PM Khan step down and a fresh election be held. He ruled out holding negotiations with the government till the resignation of Mr Khan.

JUI-F chief terms National Assembly ‘illegitimate’, demands its dissolution

In a related development on Friday, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan asked the JUI-F chief why he had contested the presidential election if the elections were rigged.

In a tweet, she said: “Maulana sahib, if there was rigging during the elections, why did you stand for the presidential election? Why did your son take oath as a member of the National Assembly? This hue and cry about rigging a year later is nothing more than a ruse to mislead the nation and to weaken democracy.”

Former chief minister of Punjab Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who is trying to break the impasse between the government and the opposition, was supposed to hold another meeting with the JUI-F chief, but it somehow could not happen.

PML-Q MPA from Punjab Ammar Yasir, however, met Maulana Fazl and delivered a special message of Mr Elahi to him.

During the meeting, the two discussed the ongoing JUI-F sit-in against the government. The meeting lasted more than two hours.

Meanwhile, JUI-F secretary general Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri told reporters that the impasse between the government and the opposition would persist unless the prime minister resigned.

Mr Haideri echoed the JUI-F chief’s sentiments that the talks with the government were “meaningless”.

He termed the government’s negotiating committee non-serious and said the talks should have a purpose.

“We have not closed our doors for negotiations. We are ready to talk if they wish to talk about the resignation [of PM Khan] or fresh elections,” he added.

‘Secret meeting’

According to sources, PML-N leaders, on the directives of party vice president Maryam Nawaz, held a “secret meeting” with the JUI-F leader.

The eighth day of Azadi march witnessed a couple of new developments, such as some national flags hoisted at the stage and the speakers did not criticise the establishment and the armed forces. Besides, for the first time since last Friday, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai did not address the gathering.

The national anthem was played before the JUI-F chief’s speech which remained confined to criticism of the government and the National Assembly.

Maulana Fazl termed the National Assembly “illegitimate” and said the ordinances recently approved by the assembly were illegal.

He said that the legislation process by the assembly had been made controversial. “Ever since the assemblies have been formed, there has been no legislation. The president just signs ordinances and they are sent to parliament for approval,” the Maulana said.

He compared the legislations introduced by the incumbent government with the laws made by the martial law regimes, saying that the laws made by the military governments were rejected by the democratic governments that came after them.

He compared the incumbent government with the land mafia and accused it of encroaching upon the rights of people.

The JUI-F chief lauded the armed forces for their sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, but at the same time said that they were not alone behind the successes in the fight against terrorism. “We have also rendered sacrifices in this war and faced attacks,” he said.

The Maulana said: “We will not recognise this illegitimate government and it should go.”

PML-N legislator Dr Nisar Ahmad Cheema also addressed the Azadi march.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2019