• Civil, military leaders agree elections to all assemblies should be held simultaneously
• Joint session of parliament on 22nd will take decisions to ‘ensure state writ’

ISLAMABAD: A couple of marathon meetings of the country’s civilian and military high command took an extremely unfavourable view of the PTI’s ongoing protest movement, terming the party “a gang of miscreants trained by banned organisations rather than a political party” and vowing to proceed against it as per law.

The huddles decided to take stern action against the protesting leaders and workers of the PTI who, when Imran Khan was supposed to appear before a court hearing the Toshakhana case, “brutally beat police personnel, set official vehicles on fire, used petrol bombs against police and created unrest”.

The first meeting, chaired by PM Shehbaz Sharif, was attended by ministers and representatives of ruling coalition partners and lasted around five hours. The second meeting, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told the media on Monday night, lasted an hour and was also attended by Chief of Army Staff Gen Asim Munir and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum.

According to an official statement issued after the meetings, the two sittings agreed to take stern action against those involved in violent protests and the ransacking of public and private property. The huddles also agreed that elections to the national and provincial assemblies should be held simultaneously.

The meeting also decided to take action against those involved in maligning state institutions, including the armed forces and judiciary, through a “smear campaign”.

“The meeting strongly condemned attacks on police and Rangers, who were obeying court orders, and called it an enmity against the state,” the statement said.

“All evidences and proofs are available, under which stern action will be taken against those involved in the unrest,” it added.

The meeting condemned “a smear campaign against the army and army chief on social media” and urged people not to become part of it. It observed that the impression that Imran Khan and his followers were being given “special treatment” was getting stronger. The statement noted that “two standards of justice” will not be accepted.

The participants also expressed concern over a recent audio tape of ex-chief justice Saqib Nisar and PTI lawyer Khawaja Tariq Rahim and condemned “objectionable” remarks about PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz.

The official statement said that the PTI was not acting like a political party, rather resembled “a gang of miscreants trained by outlawed groups” and asserted that violence by its workers against security personnel would not be tolerated.

According to the statement, a joint session of parliament would be held on Wednesday (tomorrow), and there would be more arrests of PTI leaders and workers in the days to come. Later at night, the NA Secretariat issued a statement saying that a joint sitting had been summoned to meet on March 22.

Provinces’ concern

Speaking during a TV appearance on Monday night, Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the provincial governments of Sindh and Balochistan were quite concerned over the Supreme Court decision regarding holding of elections in Punjab and KP within 90 days of their dissolution and demanded elections in all provinces and the Centre be held at the same time.

“In view of the concerns of Sindh and Balochistan, the meeting reached a consensus that elections to the national and provincial assemblies should be held at the same time, and not separately,” he added.

“If the elections in Punjab are held now, the new provincial government will have influence on the polls to the National Assembly,” he said.

The minister said the elections in Punjab were scheduled to be held under the last census, while the new census will be completed over the next four months and the general elections in the country will be held as per the fresh census. He said the final decision regarding holding of elections will be taken by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The Supreme Court had in a recent verdict directed the caretaker government of Punjab to hold elections in the province on April 30.

Mr Iqbal said the apex court had taken the decision in “haste” as the present circumstances did not allow holding of polls so early. “It was the responsibility of the Supreme Court to take its decision keeping in view the ground realities,” he added.

‘Middle way’ out of deadlock

Separately, PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said it was in the best interests of the country that elections in all provinces and the Centre should be held simultaneously. “It was a common opinion of all in the meeting. If elections in Punjab and KP are held now, it will create more problems and conflict,” he added.

Mr Kaira, however, said all the warring political forces should not give up the option of dialogue and if Imran Khan had given any hint that he was serious for talks, he should be welcomed. “There must be a middle way out of the deadlock,” he added.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2023

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