As the government and the opposition are set to enter the final round of election talks, PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Monday wondered why PML-N leaders Khawaja Asif and Javed Latif were becoming a hindrance in the ongoing dialogue.
His remarks come hours after PML-N’s Javed Latif expressed his disapproval towards the government-PTI dialogue, saying that talks should never be held with “terrorists” and those who “want to destroy national institutions”.
After two rounds of talks, the parties are now expected to hold the third round of negotiations tomorrow (Tuesday). The “almost final round” of talks — which was earlier scheduled for 11am — will be held at the Senate Secretariat at 9pm.
However, chances that the dialogue will yield positive results are starting to look “very slim” as PTI Chairman Imran Khan has demanded the dissolution of the National Assembly by May 14 to pave the way for a successful outcome of talks.
The government has termed Imran’s ultimatum “impracticable” and asked him to be more flexible for the success of this dialogue between the two sides.
A day earlier, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that he does not see a “positive outcome” of the talks. “What will be the result of the negotiations with the PTI as they are setting conditions,” he said.
PML-N Secretary General and Federal Minister for Development Ahsan Iqbal also said: “We want to tell Imran Khan that he cannot hold talks at gunpoint. The first condition of talks is, there are no pre-conditions. Mr Khan is so desperate that he wants his way or the highway.”
Talking to the media during a PTI rally in Lahore today, Qureshi asserted that he was prepared to attend the third round of talks tomorrow (May 2).
“But today, I want to ask Dar sahab, on one side you are representing the senior leadership of the PML-N […] you have the confidence of Nawaz Sharif and you are sitting on the table [for talks] … tell me, are Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal and Javed Latif not a part of your party?
“And if they are a part [of your party], then why are they becoming a hindrance in the negotiations?” he asked, wondering the same about Pakistan Democratic Movement chief Fazlur Rehman — who has refused to show flexibility on the talks.
Addressing former president Asif Ali Zardari, the PTI leader said that the PPP always claimed to have upheld the Constitution and asked “why is it then that you are standing with those violating the Constitution today?”
He went on to say that the nation was aware of the political situation today and stated that the PTI was ready for “negotiations, elections and a movement”.
Qureshi revealed that his party had put forward a proposal, after discussions with Imran, in the second round of talks. “I want Dar sahab and his team, who sought time to review the proposal, to give a clear response to it.”
He added that the government was welcome to accept PTI’s proposal but at the same time warned that if they did not do so, “I will put all of our efforts of negotiations before the Supreme Court and the decision will be in its hands”.
Talks are not held with ‘terrorists’: Javed Latif
Earlier today, Latif questioned the rationale of talks with those calling the government “Mir Jafer and Mir Sadiq”.
“I think there are no negotiations [possible] and talks can never be held with terrorists. We should never hold negotiations with the beneficiaries of the global powers,” the PML-N leader alleged.
Latif went on to say that dialogue could never be held with a person who “is spreading anarchy in the country, especially at a time when Pakistan’s economy is stabilising and the country is progressing without IMF’s aid”.
He argued that such talks would equate to putting Pakistan’s security at risk. “By doing so, you will also compromise on Pakistan’s growth,” Latif added.
The lawmaker urged “individuals in institutions” to take responsibility for “producing” a person like Imran and for the consequences of their actions.
“If this trend continues, Pakistan’s future looks bleak and uncertain,” he added.
The PML-N leader further stated that his party would not allow the forthcoming elections to take place without the participation of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif.
He noted that Imran could be taken to the field, but only after justice had been served.
Coalition leaders divided over talks
Amid divergent views on talks in the federal coalition, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which pushed the PML-N to hold parleys with the PTI on elections, is still optimistic.
“I hope that dissolution of the assemblies by May 14 is a proposal and not a condition set by Mr Khan. This suggestion is not viable. Who will present the budget if the National Assembly is dissolved in May? It cannot be left to the caretaker setup to negotiate with the IMF and present the budget (for the upcoming financial year),” PPP senior leader and PM’s special assistant Qamar Zaman Kaira told Dawn.
Kaira said despite such a suggestion the PPP believed better sense would prevail and that these talks would not end up in failure.
Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq, who recently called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Imran Khan to push them for a consensus on polls, said: “We are hopeful for a breakthrough in the dialogue and that both the federal coalition and the PTI will not head for a deadlock.”
Separately, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has reiterated that his JUI-F would not be part of any negotiations with the opposition PTI and announced a mass contact campaign to be launched across the country soon.
Efforts to reach a consensus come against the backdrop of an impasse on elections, with the PTI seeking early polls — particularly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where assemblies were dissolved in January — and the government maintaining that elections across the country be held on the same day in October.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court — while hearing a PTI petition — had directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold general elections to the Punjab Assembly on May 14. However, the government had rejected the apex court’s orders.
After repeated back and forth last week, the Supreme Court on April 20 afforded a temporary respite to the country’s main political parties, giving them time till April 26 to develop a consensus on the date for elections to the provincial and national assemblies, so they could be held simultaneously across the country.
However, on April 26, Shehbaz reiterated that simultaneous elections will take place in October or November after the current National Assembly completed its term on August 13, whereas parliament will have the final say regarding the initiation of talks with the opposition.
The government wanted to talk to the PTI, he said, adding that there was an overwhelming opinion that the doors of dialogue should not be closed, but its format was yet to be decided. “The decision [regarding talks] has to be taken by parliament, not you or me,” he added.
Subsequently, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani formed a committee with four members each from both the ruling coalition and the opposition for dialogue.