Deadlock persists in govt-Opp talks


–First day of talks between govt, Opp ends without conclusion as both sides fail to reach agreement over protest venue

–Rahbar Committee asks for PM’s resignation, fresh elections sans troops’ deployment, protection of Islamic constitutional clauses and civilian supremacy

–Khattak says PM Imran’s resignation is ‘off the table’, Sanjrani hopes issues can be resolved through dialogue

ISLAMABAD: The first formal meeting between the government and opposition for negotiations over the upcoming Azadi March ended in a deadlock persisting between both sides as they could not agree on a single point.

The meeting was held at the residence of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) leader Akram Durrani in the federal capital where the opposition’s Rahbar Committee presented its four-point charter of demands to the government committee. The opposition asked for the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan, new elections without deployment of army troops at the polling stations, protection of Islamic clauses in the constitution and supremacy of civilian institutions.

The venue of the protest remained a sticking point in the first round of discussion, with the government refusing to grant permission for it to be held at D-Chowk and instead offering that it may be held at Parade Ground. The opposition did not agree to the government’s offer.

After holding talks for two hours in the evening, the government committee took leave briefly to seek time to take into confidence top government leadership and resumed talks at 10:30pm.

According to the government team, the opposition presented them with a written proposal of the demands. These were discussed with the prime minister before talks resumed.

Following the conclusion of the talks, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, who led the government side, said that no important conclusion could be brought about even after much discussion but the talks would continue. Jamiat Ulema-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leader Akram Khan Durrani also said that no conclusion could be reached.

From the government’s side, the seven-member negotiation committee comprised of Khattak, National Assembly (NA) Speaker Asad Qaiser, Sanjrani, MNA Asad Umar, Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood, Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri, and Punjab Assembly (PA) Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.

The opposition committee members included Durrani, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan’s (JUP) Awais Noorani, Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) Nayyar Bukhari and Farhatullah Babar, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Ahsan Iqbal, former NA speaker Ayaz Sadiq, Awami National Party’s (ANP) Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Qaumi Watan Party’s (QWP) Hashim Babar and National Party’s (NP) Tahir Bizenjo.

It is worth mentioning here that the top leadership of the main opposition parties including PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman were not present in the meeting.

Prior to the meeting with the government, the Rehbar Committee members had gathered for a discussion between themselves.

When asked by a journalist if the government team had brought with them the prime minister’s resignation — as demanded by the JUI-F chief a day earlier — Khattak said talks about the resignation are “off the table”.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani suggested that dialogue should be continued between the government and the opposition as it is the beauty of democracy. He also hoped that the issues between both sides would ultimately be resolved through talks.

Meanwhile, JUP’s Awais Noorani, in a casual conversation with reporters, said that the opposition were standing by their demands. “If they have not brought in the resignation today, they will have to one day.”

On Thursday, Khattak had held consultations with Prime Minister Imran Khan over the government’s strategy for negotiations with the joint opposition while the latter had once again reiterated its demand for the premier’s resignation.

Later on Thursday, PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal had assured Fazl of their parties’ participation in the Azadi March.

According to a statement issued by JUI-F, Fazl chief had held telephonic conversations with both leaders who expressed their support for the anti-government protests.

It is worth mentioning here that Fazl has threatened the government with a long march which will begin on October 27. The JUI-F chief has demanded PM Imran’s resignation and has said that anything less will not be acceptable.

The march will kick off on October 27 and will reach Islamabad on October 31. The opposition’s Rahbar Committee will decide whether a protest sit-in will take place in Islamabad or not.

Fazl blames the premier for the country’s economic woes and other troubles. The prime minister, on the other hand, in a recent meeting with journalists and analysts, said that Fazl’s march has a ‘special agenda’ and he will not cave into their pressure.

The government has also warned the opposition that anyone who tries to take the law into their hands will be dealt with strictly.