Neither willing to budge as govt-PTI talks enter next round

Published April 29, 2023
PTI and government representatives gathered at the Parliament House on Friday for the second round of talks. — Photo by author
PTI and government representatives gathered at the Parliament House on Friday for the second round of talks. — Photo by author

• Both sides exchange proposals, ‘final round’ slated for May 2
• Dar denies deadlock in dialogue, Qureshi claims ‘appropriate progress’
• Imran says no need to proceed with talks if govt insists on polls after August

ISLAMABAD: With both the coalition government and opposition PTI claiming progress in crucial talks to break deadlock over the timing of elections, the two sides on Friday decided to hold what one minister called the “almost final round” of parleys on May 2 (Tuesday).

Representatives of the government and opposition exchanged proposals during the second round of talks held in the Committee Room No 3 at the Parliament House.

Though the development has generated some optimism, the dialogue process still appears to be fraught with the possibility of failure as important figures from both sides in their remarks stuck to their guns and questioned the utility of negotiations if one side does not agree with the other’s suggestion.

Informed sources told Dawn that PTI insisted on a date for dissolution of the National Assembly prior to the presentation of budget to “reduce political tension”.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, Commerce Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, PPP Senator Yousaf Raza Gilani and Kishwar Zehra of MQM-P took part in the negotiations from the government side, while PTI was represented by party Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry and Senator Barrister Ali Zafar.

While talking to the media, Mr Dar denied any deadlock in the parleys and said the two sides had tabled their proposals, which would be put before the government and PTI leadership.

“Some progress has been made today,” he said, adding that an “almost final round” would be held next week.

When asked to share details of proposals, he said: “We are morally bound, we cannot share the proposals of either side.”

Confirming that progress has been made, Mr Qureshi told journalists that negotiations were held in a “pleasant environment” and with the intention to “find a way forward while staying within the ambit of the Constitution”.

“In my view, we made appropriate progress in this regard,” he added. Mr Qureshi confirmed that both sides had tabled their proposals and said that PTI’s suggestions are “reasonable, implementable and within the constitutional bounds”.

“We have taken a break so that we may talk to our leadership and they discuss it with their coalition partners. We have agreed to meet again on Tuesday at 11am,” he said.

“I, Fawad Chaudhry and Ali Zafar will go to Lahore tomorrow and take Imran Khan into confidence on today’s progress,” he said, adding that talks on Tuesday would be held in the light of this development.

“Threat to dialogue”

Mr Chaudhry criticised the detention of PTI leader Ali Amin Gandapur and “arrest of 33 supporters of Imran Khan” outside the Islamabad High Court earlier in the day, saying such actions would “destroy the process of dialogue”.

He said ministers had maintained that they had no involvement in these arrests. “Then whoever is doing this, it is akin to ruining the talks, and the responsibility falls on the government in any case,” he added. “If you will engage in arrests without reason, the things will derail,” the PTI leader warned.

Mr Qureshi also condemned the arrests, saying Friday’s talks began with this issue. The arrests, he maintained, had no justification.

“There are talks on one hand and this situation on the other. So they [government representatives] were asked what are they trying to do and were they creating an enabling environment. They understood [our stance] and consequently, 33 arrested people were released,” he added.

Hard stance

Ahead of the second round of parleys, PTI chief Imran Khan — during a chat with journalists outside the Islamabad High Court — said he had requested the party negotiators to initiate talks with the government only if the ruling party was prepared to immediately dissolve the assemblies and hold elections.

“There’s no need to proceed if they insist on holding polls in September or October,” Mr Khan said, with both Mr Qureshi and Mr Chaudhry present on the occasion.

He said it would be a breach of the Constitution if the Punjab Assembly elections were not held on May 14, adding the ball is now in the government’s court, as they can hold simultaneous elections by dissolving the National Assembly prematurely.

Separately, Mr Chaudhry said the main objective of the negotiations was to recognise that public was the “centre of power” and move towards elections.

Prior to talks, the government and PTI teams called on Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani, who took the initiative to bring the two sides on the negotiating table.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2023

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