ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif disclosed during a high-level meeting that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had agreed to call off its 'Azadi' long march if its demand for a recount of votes in 10 constituencies was met.
The premier's statement comes on the heels of several rounds of political meetings throughout the week between opposition groups and the government, as the PTI and Tahirul Qadri gear up for their anti-government long marches in the capital.
“The PTI had said it would call off its long march if there is recounting of votes on 10 constituencies of the National Assembly,” Nawaz, while addressing participants of the National Security Conference.
The prime minister said that Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Ameer Sirajul Haq had quoted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan as making the statement.
"We are ready to talk about it but the solution has to be found through talks,” he said, adding, “This is a good [development] that they (the PTI) are ready to engage in talks and we are ready to work out a formula [for the demand].”
“Come and tell us about your suggestions,” he said, addressing the PTI, and adding that he was ready to go to Imran Khan’s house himself if it meant it could end this escalation. “Imran Khan had invited me and I had visited his home, and I am ready to go and meet him again.”
The government has made several offers to engage PTI in talks, but Saturday’s offer has come from the premier himself in a meeting that was attended by the leadership of the armed forces as well.
During the meeting, Nawaz said that the country could not afford any political confrontation at a time when its military was engaged in a confrontation against terrorists and when efforts are being made to revive the country’s economy. He called upon all political parties to play a responsible role in steering the country out of all the challenges it is facing.
However, he was less tolerant of another protest taking place -- that of Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) in Lahore. Implicitly referring to Dr Tahirul Qadri's call for upheaval, Nawaz declared that bringing about a revolution in order to create chaos will not be tolerated. He also said that no one would be allowed to harm democracy or the supremacy of the Constitution.
Nawaz remarked that he does not understand why the Azadi March and "revolutionary rally" are being held just a year after the government came into power, stating that it would have made more sense if the marches took place during the end of the government’s tenure.
Sharif also mentioned his government’s policy of accepting the mandate of all political parties after the 2013 general elections, and said, “We accepted the mandate of all political parties and invited them to form there government which is still intact.”
The meeting started with a fateha for the martyrs of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Prime Minister Nawaz said the "intensity of the blow-back of the military operation would be low."
He remarked that there was a consensus regarding Operation Zarb-e-Azb with all political forces and civil society on board, adding that he had not heard any criticism about the operation.
Inviting anyone who had reservations regarding the military operation to speak their mind, the premier stated that the government was ready to hear everyone's views.
The prime minister said that that the operation has given the country hope for peace. He said the armed forces were valiantly fighting and sacrificing their lives in the fight against terrorists, adding that the operation was launched after a spate of terrorist attacks, including the one on the Karachi airport.
“We pay tribute to the sacrifices of our armed forces in the war against terrorism and express solidarity with their families,” he said.
Director General Military Operations Major General Amir Riaz briefed the political leadership about the ongoing operation and the status of objectives achieved so far, according to a statement issued by the PM office.
The statement said that the conference was briefed about the areas that have been cleared by the army during the operation and that the terrorists were on the run and their command and control system had been crippled.
“The meeting was told that during the operation and to handle the blowback of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, requisite legal and constitutional cover has been given to Pakistan Army wherever it was required,” the PM office statement read.
It added that through coordinated efforts of armed forces, financing of terror outfits is being blocked.
The meeting also especially emphasised on the development work and resettlement and reconstruction of the entire Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) region. In this regard, the meeting was told that adequate resources were being mobilised for management of IDPs.
The meeting was informed that stated policy of the armed forces during the operation was: “To ensure that there was no collateral damage and to protect the life and property of innocent civilians. The need for capacity building of LEAs, greater coordination to deny any terrorist entry in the mainland was stressed.”
After the meeting, the Jamat-e-Islami chief told the media that they had asked the army leadership about timeframe for the completion of military operation. Although the army did not give a timeframe, they said it would soon be completed, he added.
The premier asserted that, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, the federal government was sincerely supporting the provinces.
Speaking about the Centre’s commitment to pull the country out of its problems, Nawaz said that Pakistan is currently fighting a “jihad” against the energy crisis and simultaneously suffering from economic problems as well as terrorism, claiming that the energy crisis would be resolved within the next three to four years.
Express News screengrab of COAS Raheel Sharif arriving at the meeting.
Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and DG ISI Lt Gen Muhammad Zahirul Islam, DGMO Major General Amir Riaz and DG ISPR Maj General Asim Saleem Bajwa were in attendance at the conference.
However, the army confined itself to the extent of the military operation in North Wazirstan, issues related to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the law and order situation all across the country.
Chief ministers of Balochistan and Sindh, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch and Qaim Ali Shah, respectively, were also in attendance.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pervaiz Rasheed were also present at the PM House.
Leaders from various political parties including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Mehmood Khan Achakzai from Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, JI Ameer Sirajul Haq and Awami National Party (ANP) leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour represented their parties at the meeting.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leaders Farooq Sattar and Babar Ghauri are also attending the meeting.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is being represented by Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah as well as Senator Raza Rabbani.
Although the prime minister said, during his opening speech at today’s meeting, which he termed an All Parties Conference (APC), that all those parties who have representation in the National Assembly had been asked to participate, some parties were reportedly not invited.
“This was not a National Security meeting but a Nawaz Sharif security meeting,” Sheik Rashid Ahmed, chief of his own faction of the Muslim League, Awami Muslim League (AML), told The Express Tribune.
Responding to a question, Rashid said “The government did not invite me and have decided not to do so. They had even announced this during the last National Assembly session.”
The PM’s press secretary confirmed to The Express Tribune that the PML-Q and AML were not invited to the meeting.
The PTI, which was invited, however, opted to stay out of the meeting.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Parvez Khattak and PTI chief Imran Khan, both, failed to show up for the meeting.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, while speaking to the media at the end of the National Security Conference (NSC), said Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairperson Imran Khan’s absence in the conference was a matter which could be questioned, rather than the PTI chief questioning the motive behind the conference.
“He [Imran Khan] questions any step we take, whether it is that of meeting with the IDPs in North Waziristan or celebrating Eid with them,” Rashid said.
He added that, “every other political party member was present at the conference, how come they didn’t ask the same questions?”
Bad weather forced Shahbaz, Nisar's plane back
A statement from the Punjab government on Saturday evening explained that both, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had left for Islamabad but their flight was forced to return due to bad weather.
The statement said that Shahbaz and Nisar’s plane returned to the ground just a few minutes after taking off due to inclement weather ahead.
Since their plane was forced to return, neither could attend the National Security Council meeting in Islamabad on Saturday.