• Dar says negotiations possible if Imran admits mistakes, apologises to nation
• Saad Rafique says no space for dialogue in present situation
LAHORE: The ambiguities of government policy over talks with the PTI came into sharp focus on Sunday, with a key minister flatly ruling out the possibility of negotiations in a post-May 9 scenario while another hinting at a way out if Imran Khan apologises and repents.
Talking at the Geo News programme Jirga, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said negotiations with Mr Khan could be held if he took “corrective measures”, apologises to the nation, admits his mistake and promises not to do anything like May 9 in the future.
The minister said that before that fateful day — when violent protests erupted across the country after Mr Khan’s arrest — the government negotiated with PTI with “sincere intentions” and the two sides agreed on all matters except the date of election.
He said peaceful protest was everyone’s right, but attacks on armed forces’ installations should not be condoned.
Meanwhile, in Lahore, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said there was no way talks could be held with the PTI in the current situation.
“There used to be an environment and agenda for holding parleys on any issue. But the existing atmosphere is not suitable for talks,” he told reporters, adding that no one would like to hold dialogue with the talks committee formed by Mr Khan.
Mr Rafique was probably referring to the seven-member committee that the former prime minister appointed on Saturday.
The minister said he always supported negotiations despite several differences with the PTI. He said the government attempted to engage in dialogue and both sides even agreed on several issues, including simultaneous elections.
However, when the government’s team contacted Mr Khan, the PTI chief refused to accept any of the points, Mr Rafique said, adding: “Now, after all that bullying, there is no space for dialogue.”
The minister, who was talking to the media after visiting the Lahore corps commander’s residence, also known as Jinnah House, said that a tragedy took place at the venue on May 9.
He regretted that valuable things “preserved” at the site, including the Quaid-i-Azam’s room, his writing table, and handwritten notes, were damaged and burnt on that fateful day.
He alleged that the PTI leadership and ticket-holders were involved in the arson despite knowing about the sanctity of the installation. “This fire did not erupt because of petrol or matchbox, but chemicals,” he claimed.
The railways minister also claimed that Mr Khan “poisoned the minds of the youth and sowed the seeds of hatred in their minds for years”.
He recalled that during the Pervez Musharraf government, PML-N workers had also been protesting almost daily, but kept in mind the “sanctity of cantonments”.
Asked who was responsible for preventing the May 9 riots, he said this question should be put to the Punjab caretaker government.
Mr Rafique also urged the former prime minister and the entire PTI leadership to accept their mistake and apologise to the whole nation over the May 9 riots. “They should do issue a public apology,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon pointed out that half of the individuals appointed by Imran Khan to the negotiation committee were currently in hiding.
He said PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari had made it clear that before any negotiations, Mr Khan should apologise for the “injustices and wrongdoings” committed during his tenure.
Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2023