Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said that the opposition should take back its no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan considering the international economic situation and the political bitterness that would be created, adding that the PTI government "will see what can be given in return".
He made the remarks while speaking in Aaj News TV programme Aaj Rana Mubashir Ke Saath on Sunday night.
Chaudhry said one of the major problems with the country's politics was that it was very divisive, claiming that the differences between the opposition and the government were "personalised" instead of being based on policy.
The information minister said that since the opposition parties formed the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), "a lot of rancour has been created, hard statements have come forward and an environment is created ... a doctrine of unintended consequences becomes operative and a lot of things happen which both parties do not want."
So much bitterness would be created in politics by the time voting on the no-confidence motion takes place in two to three weeks that it would damage Pakistan, he said, adding that in his opinion, a solution should be found through which the opposition takes back the motion while "[we] will see what can be given in return."
When asked what the government could offer the opposition in such a scenario, Chaudhry said there were a number of matters on which negotiations could be held with the opposition, including electoral reforms, changes to the National Accountability Bureau laws and dates and processes of the next general elections.
"Whatever the opposition's [concerns] are, discussions can be held with open hearts," he said while cautioning "serious people" in the opposition that amid the impending vote on the motion, "we will keep doing politics for 2-3 weeks and when we look back, we will see that our economy has been damaged so much that it will be a problem to make it recover."
The country's benefit should be prioritised, he added.
If the opposition wanted early elections, they could also make it their demand, the information minister said, adding that while there was "no harm" in discussions, no one would make unliateral efforts.
When the host questioned whether a security situation could be created on the day of voting because of the PTI's plans to hold a rally at Islamabad's D-Chowk, Chaudhry said it could happen.
Referring to the PPP's recent long march which reached the capital on March 8, the minister said PTI believed "all those people bringing small rallies should see what a big one looks like", adding that the rally would be a "sort of referendum".
One million people would participate in the rally that would be held on the day of voting at D-Chowk, in front of Parliament House, he said. All parliamentarians arriving to vote on that day would have to pass through the rally on their way to the National Assembly and on their way back as well, he added.
When the host again questioned whether this would lead to a complicated security situation, the minister said, "We will see what situation will be created. That is why I'm saying they should take it back."
On the question of PM Imran declaring an emergency, Chaudhry said there was no reason to do so and the scope of emergency after the 18th Amendment was very limited.
'Internal reaction in PML-N'
Speaking about the government's allies — Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) in Punjab and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) in Sindh — Chaudhry said they had assured during meetings that they were standing with the government. However, some leaders of the ally parties had given different statements, he noted, adding that there were reports of them meeting the opposition parties as well.
"We will see when they make a final decision. But then local politics comes into operation. If the PML-N accomodates the Chaudhry brothers, there will be an internal reaction. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So, whoever takes action, he will get a reaction."
Chaudhry said that former prime minister and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif had "not fulfilled" promises he made to allies during difficult times.
"Whether you look at politics in 1988 ... Humayun Akhtar Khan (leader of a breakaway faction of the PML-Q) will remember that [the group and PML-N] came to an agreement, after which that group was absorbed in the PML-N." However, when the time came to give tickets to people from the PML-Q breakaway group for the 2018 elections, the PML-N reneged on its agreement, Chaudhry claimed.
Moving on to the political situation in Punjab, the information minister said the ruling party's performance in central Punjab — Lahore and Gujranwala — was "not very good" but the competition in the province was only between PTI and PML-N. "You saw PPP did a long march and spent all of Sindh's money like water [but] they did not get any response from Punjab and they have no chance [in the future] either."
Referring to former special assistant to the prime minister Nadeem Afzal Chan's return to PPP earlier this month, Chaudhry said he had told Chan that he would be better off if he "joined [India's] Congress party since it would have more votes" than Bilawal's PPP.
'Replacing Buzdar a problem'
When the host referred to reports that Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar was ready to resign — a key demand of the group of lawmakers led by estranged PTI leader Jahangir Tareen — Chaudhry responded that "Buzdar's going is not the difficult part; who will replace him is a problem."
He said that no group in the province was in consensus with any other group regarding ministries in Punjab.
The minister shared that he had spoken to Tareen and estranged leader Aleem Khan, saying he "fully expects that we will end the small disagreements and ... bring them back".
The two estranged party leaders had shown a lot of grace, he said.
"A lot of things will come forward in 48 to 72 hours," he added.
Boycott of Jang and Geo
Referring to a story by Jang which reportedly mentioned 33 PTI lawmakers had turned into dissidents, the minister said those named in the story had reached out to the reporter who allegedly responded that he had not filed it.
"The boycott we have done of Jang and Geo was a difficult decision and we did not want to do it [but] they have become representatives of the PML-N. They also published a [fake] news about me that I said treasonous lawmakers should be sent abroad for which Pemra (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) has sent them a notice."
When asked why the media was not "supporting" the PTI despite doing so in the past, Chaudhry responded, "These groups were never with us and they still cannot digest Imran Khan, especially the class who have properties abroad. They are worried because of what is happening with Russian oligarchs."
'Current system cannot deliver'
Chaudhry said the current political system in Pakistan "cannot deliver". Elaborating, he said all prime ministers in Pakistan wanted to run Punjab's affairs themselves, adding that the problem was not who became the chief minister but whether the central government wanted to decentralise or not.
"Local governments do not resist. So much money goes in provinces, billions have been given to Punjab. Now this money cannot be spent by one person. An anomaly has been created where chief ministers have become more powerful than the PM."
He disclosed that both he and Prime Minister Imran wanted to decentralise the system. If local governments were empowered, the money would go to district administrations through the Provincial Finance Commission, he added.
'Should've held LG elections in first year'
The minister admitted that the PTI government should have held elections for local governments in the first year of coming into power, calling it one of the "two or three major mistakes we made". When asked what the other mistakes were, Chaudhry said the federal government should have shut down the NAB and merged it with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) similar to a single federal agency in other countries such as India and the United Kingdom.
"We should have accountability under our [control]. Our voter is not satisfied in this matter, he thinks we delayed [the process of accountability]."
He added that the government would focus on the lower middle classes next year.
"Our problem is that we do not have political parties, we have personalities," he said, adding that the opposition had no alternative plan whenever he asked them for it. The PPP and PML-N did not have technical committees that would define their policies, he said.
"We have had to change finance ministers thrice because we had no backend team. We will need to create them so they can give policy guidance to front-end teams. I want to request Asad Umar to create backend teams," the minister concluded.
'Clear that PM has lost majority'
Meanwhile, PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman responded to what she termed the PTI's "threat' of holding a rally at D-Chowk on the day of voting, saying it was an "outrage" and a "testament to the triumph of the no-confidence motion but also #TabahiSarkar's resort to mob violence".
In a series of tweets, Rehman said it was "clear that [the prime minister] has lost his majority, but also all claims to being a democratic player that adheres to a minimum rule of law. Tehreek-i-Insaf has become Tehreek-i-Intishar (party of chaos) in a blatant attempt to subvert the constitution to hang on to power".
The National Assembly Secretariat had informed NA Speaker Asad Qaiser that preventing a parliamentarian from voting was unconstitutional, she said, adding "this desperation to hang on to office is a sad demonstration of the lengths PTI is willing to go in crossing all democratic red lines."
Correction: An earlier version of the story quoted Fawad Chaudhry as saying the government had changed three foreign ministers, when in fact, he said the government had changed three finance ministers. The error is regretted.