ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: Despite Supreme Court’s directives, PTI negotiaters did not manage to hold talks with a government team, scheduled to be held at 10pm on Wednesday night at the Islamabad chief commissioner’s office to ensure the party’s protest remained peaceful.
Speaking at a hurriedly-called news conference, federal ministers Azam Nazeer Tarar and Ayaz Sadiq claimed the PTI had disobeyed the SC order. They also expressed reservations over the SC making it binding upon the government to allow the PTI to enter the federal capital, and then not taking any action against the party for ‘disobeying’ the court’s orders.
“The court which ordered (us) to clear the roads (for the PTI long march) that resulted in fire everywhere in the city, is closed at the moment,” said Law Minister Tarar. Mr Sadiq said it was the need of the hour that the Supreme Court take action over this contempt. JUI-F leader Asad Mehmood and BAP chief Khalid Magsi also urged the PTI to come to the negotiating table.
However, PTI leader Babar Awan on his part claimed he had reached the chief commissioner’s office at exactly 10pm but found no one from the other side there. He said he had then left the venue, as he could not wait for the other team.
Imran denies reports of deal to cancel sit-in
Sources in the capital administration told Dawn the PTI leadership was displeased over the arrests of its leaders, including two who were supposed to be part of the negotiating team.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court had ordered the federal government and the PTI to constitute respective negotiating committees and meet at 10pm on Wednesday to finalise modalities for a peaceful and safe conduct of the party’s long march. The committees were to meet at the Islamabad chief commissioner’s office. The order came on a petition moved by Islamabad High Court Bar Association president Muhammad Shoaib Shaheen which was heard by a three-judge bench consisting of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi.
The authorities were also told to release the PTI workers and supporters arrested in the last 48 hours but not involved or accused in any heinous crime. The court also restrained the authorities from midnight raids at residences, offices and private properties for rounding up PTI workers till further orders.
The court will take up the matter again on Thursday.
The PTI negotiating committee consisted of Babar Awan, Aamir Kiani, Faisal Fareed Chaudhry and Ali Awan. Similarly, the government side was represented by former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani, Ayaz Sadiq, Faisal Sabzwari, Asad Mahmood, Azam Nazir Tarar, Agha Jan and Khalid Magsi.
However, the court did not issue any directions for removing roadblocks and barricades despite a request from the PTI counsel.
The court also ordered Babar Awan and Faisal Fareed to get an assurance from the party leadership that their workers will remain peaceful. Mr Awan requested for holding their rally in the ground between sectors H-9 and G-9, which the court ordered the chief commissioner to facilitate.
Moreover, on the orders of the apex court, the Islamabad High Court asked the district administration to review the cases of detained PTI workers, and ordered to release those not involved in any crime. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah resumed hearing on a petition filed against the harassment of PTI workers and leaders.
The Islamabad deputy commissioner apprised the CJ that the National Counter Terrorism Authority had issued an advisory against an untoward incident, adding there were reports of the protesters being armed.
To a court query, he said about 70 workers had been arrested under the MPO on reports that they planned to damage government property and vehicles. Further hearing in the matter was adjourned till Thursday (today).
Deal, no deal
Meanwhile, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz in a press conference in Lahore claimed some PTI leaders met MNA Ayaz Sadiq and presented some demands, which were turned down. She also claimed that “discouraged by a dull march”, the PTI leaders didn’t want to stage a sit-in, which was confirmed by Mr Sadiq in a private TV show.
However, the PTI chief denied Ms Nawaz’s claims, tweeting: “Rumours & deliberate disinformation that a deal has been done. Absolutely not! We are moving towards Islamabad & no question of any deal. We will remain in Islamabad till announcement of dates for dissolution of assemblies & elections are given. Calling all people of Islamabad & Pindi to join.”
On the other hand, PML-N leaders appeared ‘overwhelmed’ with a ‘poor response’ of the masses to the PTI’s long march. The entire party throughout Wednesday tried to establish that the people of Punjab and KP had rejected Imran Khan’s call to protest.
PML-N leaders Maryam Nawaz, Abid Sher Ali, former senator Pervaiz Rashid, Punjab government spokesperson Attaullah Tarar and Punjab Information Secretary Azma Bokhari held a press conference in Lahore, while federal ministers Rana Sanaullah and Marriyum Aurangzeb, Dr Tariq Fazal and Daniyal Aziz spoke separately, but they all voiced the same thing: people had reposed trust in the Sharifs by refusing to join Imran’s protest.
Beleaguered Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz added his two cents through a tweet, asking Mr Khan to explain where were the two million people he had claimed would join the PTI’s long march.
The PTI asked that if the government was so sure of the march’s failure, why it had blocked Punjab, and arrested party leaders and workers in the last three days. Fawad Chaudhry claimed the party workers and leaders faced “police brutality” at every point in Punjab at the behest of the government. “For the last three days the Punjab police have been picking up our workers from their residences… but despite this a huge crowd will reach Islamabad,” he maintained.
In her presser, Maryam Nawaz said: “I thank the people of Punjab and KP for rejecting Imran. He is responsible for those killed and injured in the protest.” She blamed the establishment for making Imran the prime minister, who was now hurling abuses at it.
When asked why she backtracked from her stance about early elections, she said: “Because the economy is on a ventilator. I had earlier thought of getting a fresh mandate to fix the economy. However, when Imran Khan threatened us we decided not to be blackmailed by him. Now the coalition government will complete its tenure.”
Zulqernain Tahir also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2022