First round of talks between govt and JUI-F on Sunday


–Haideri confirms meeting with govt’s delegation at 8pm, says final decision rests with JUI-F chief

–Defence Minister Khattak says Maulana Fazl’s refusal to hold talks with govt points to anti-Kashmir agenda



ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on Saturday reached out to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) for the first round of talks in a bid to stop the religio-political party from marching onto the federal capital on October 31.

Sources said that Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani initiated contact with JUI-F Secretary General Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri on the telephone and sought a meeting at his residence at 8pm on Sunday.

Haideri confirmed the development, saying the JUI-F has not closed its doors on negotiations with the government.

“We will see what the government will offer us but the final decision on holding the march rests with Maulana Fazlur Rehman,” he said. He added that the JUI-F could refer the government’s proposals to the Rahber Committee but it would continue to stick to its demand of resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

According to details, the government’s side would include Senate Chairman Sanjrani and head of the negotiation committee, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak.

Earlier in the day, Khattak had told a press conference that Maulana Fazl’s refusal to come to the table points towards an anti-Kashmir agenda.

Addressing the presser along with Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood at Parliament House, Khattak said that the opposition, rather than showing willingness or taking any steps to solve issues, is bent on its demand for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation.

Making it clear that the issue of Azadi March would be resolved through dialogue between the government and JUI-F leadership, the PTI leaders said that the government had never closed doors to dialogue in its sit-in during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government’s tenure.

“We are requesting the opposition parties to come and talk,” Khattak said, adding that in democracy, discussing issues is necessary for resolving them.

He denied rumours that the government had been pushed into forming a committee “out of fear”, saying that things can only be resolved through dialogue whereas the government would fully follow procedures of democracy.

Making it clear that the premier’s resignation was out of question, Khattak said that the issues would be resolved through dialogue and the government’s writ would be implemented otherwise the only way forward would be to act and “make decisions according to the law”.

“We are requesting the opposition parties to come and talk. Because if you have any issues then you should talk. This is a democracy. If you don’t sit with us and talk, then we would have fulfilled our responsibility. Whatever happens afterwards will be on you,” he said while adding that the government would consult all parties on the Azadi March.

Khattak warned that the opposition’s stubborn behaviour will only result in “utter lawlessness” and yield no results.

He hoped that messages sent to the senior leadership of opposition parties would yield positive results and that they would come to the table to pave a way towards a solution so that all attention can be used to deal with the Kashmir issue as “which seems to be constantly cast aside”.

“It seems there is some other agenda; an agenda has been formed to bury the issue of Kashmir,” the defence minister added.

Emphasising that the government was responsible for protecting the nation from anarchy and destruction, the defence minister said that the matter of Azadi March was not just a political issue but encompassed civil life as well.

“The government has to establish its writ. If someone challenges the government, it is not just Imran Khan that is the government, it is the state. And it is not just PTI that forms the state, we have a whole system and if someone wishes it harm, they will get the rightful response,” he added.

The defence minister said that whenever one tunes into Indian media channels, “it seems people (in Pakistan) are working on their (Indian) agenda”. “They are happy to see Pakistan descend into chaos.”

He said the government for that reason wishes to sit down and hold talks and strengthen the country’s position against external threats.

Khattak, drawing a comparison from a protest sit in by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf — which was part of the opposition in 2014 — said that the PTI approach had been different whereby before a protest was called, the National Assembly, courts, and Election Commission of Pakistan were all approached first.

“When all options were exhausted, only then did Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was the party leader, decide to march on Islamabad.”

Khattak said the PTI “didn’t just come out without a rhyme or reason”. “We had an issue (election rigging) and a list of demands.”

The defence minister sought to remind everyone that the Panama scandal had also unfolded and the PTI had “rightly demanded an inquiry into the matter but no one listened”.

“Right after we launched our movement, the very next day the Supreme Court gave its verdict in the case and we accepted it and put an end to our movement,” said Khattak.

He further pointed out that despite the Panama scandal, the PTI “held talks (with the government) and discussions continued and when a commission was formed, we accepted its decision”.

Khattak said that on the other hand, the opposition had never once approached the government in the Assembly or otherwise and presented its demands.

He called on Maulana (Fazlur Rehman) sahib to give the government’s offer some thought. “He should think about Pakistan. If his agenda is Pakistan, it he loves his homeland and has love for Kashmiris, he will have to sit down and talk with us.”

The defence minister said that if the agenda is to create anarchy and to let Pakistan slip further (into a downward economic spiral), then his choice to continue (with the march) will reflect the same.

He said that the seven-member negotiation committee formed by the government — which comprises National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, Asad Umar, Shafqat Mehmood, Noorul Haq Qadri, and Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervez Elahi — has the composition it does “because the government is taking the matter very seriously and wishes for the same to be communicated”.