• Latif says no to dialogue with ‘terrorists’; Asif terms talks with ‘confused Imran’ not viable
• Qureshi maintains PTI will go back to SC if dialogue falters; party ready to take to streets if necessary

LAHORE / RAWALPINDI: After two senior members of the federal cabinet went public with their opposition to the government’s talks with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Mon­day demanded a “clear response” from the ruling coalition and warned of taking to the streets if negotiations ended up being an “exercise in futility”.

The warning from the PTI stalwart came in response to statements made by PML-N leader Javed Latif and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif — both opposing talks with the opposition party on multiple grounds.

The third round of talks — probably the final one — is due today (Tuesday), and the government has already termed Imran Khan’s demand for the dissolution of the assembly by May 14 ‘impractical’, while the latter hitherto has not shown flexibility in this regard.

The timing of the talks — originally scheduled to begin at 11am — has been shifted to 9pm, said a statement released by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, who is facilitating the dialogue.

In addition, the National Assembly session, scheduled to be held on May 3, has been brought forward and will be held at 2pm today (Tuesday).

No talks with ‘terrorists’

Speaking to the media on Monday, Javed Latif — considered a close confidant of party supremo Nawaz Sharif — termed the former ruling party “terrorists” and said dialogue cannot be initiated with the party.

“I think there should be no negotiations with terrorists and those who conspired against the state. Holding talks with (PTI chief) Imran Khan is akin to compromising on national interests,” Mr Latif, who is a federal minister without any portfolio, said.

“We should never hold negotiations with the beneficiaries of the global powers,” he said and added a dialogue on the wishes of “someone” should not be held in any case. The minister was apparently referring to a Supreme Court order on April 20 wherein the court had asked political parties to hold talks.

According to Mr Latif, his party would not accept polls in the absence of its supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, who has been in self-imposed exile on health grounds since 2019.

The minister also took potshots at his own party leadership for not standing against the powers that be when a “conspiracy was being hatched” against Nawaz Sharif in 2015. “Had we stood up in 2015, the current situation would have not arisen,” he claimed.

Separately, Mr Asif claimed the government wanted elections to be held on time i.e. October, but Imran Khan was desperate to go into elections before the retirement of the chief justice, calling the negotiations led by Ishaq Dar an “exercise in futility”.

The PML-N leader said he did not favour talks with Mr Khan since the latter was a “confused” individual and after some days he would have a new stance. He said Mr Khan was desperate for polls because he wanted them to be held under the patronage of his new ‘facilitators’

A day earlier, the defence minister had said Imran Khan should make haste in taking to the streets so that these so-called talks could end.

Warning from PTI

As the two PML-N ministers opposed the talks, PTI leader Qureshi warned that the party was ready for “elections” as well as street protests, if need be.

“We will not allow the government and its allies to fool the people in the name of negotiations and they will [need to] give us a clear answer about the elections in the third round of negotiations,” he said while speaking to reporters in Rawalpindi during a Labour Day rally.

He called out the two PML-N leaders for creating hindrances in the ongoing dialogue at a time when the negotiations had entered a third round. He said that if talks failed, the PTI would go to the people after informing the Supreme Court about the result.

“I will place our efforts regarding negotiations before the Supreme Court and the decision will be in its hands,” he warned.

“We want a solution to the issues as we are political and democratic people and do not shy away from negotiations, but Khawaja Asif and Javed Latif have become a hindrance to negotiations,” the PTI leader claimed.

The PTI leader said PML-N leader Ishaq Dar, who is close to Nawaz Sharif, was ready for talks but Maulana Fazlur Rehman, despite being the president of PDM, refused to negotiate with the PTI.

Mr Qureshi revealed that his party had put forward a proposal – regarding the dissolution of NA and provincial assemblies – after discussions with Imran Khan 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.”

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2023

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